BATON ROUGE, LA - Going into league play undefeated for the first time in program history, the No. 5-ranked LSU softball team begins Southeastern Conference play in earnest on Friday evening, opening a three-game series against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Park.
Game times for the series are at 6 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, with all three games airing locally on the radio home for the LSU softball team on ESPN 104.5/9 FM. Saturday's game will be streamed live online ton SEC Network+ through WatchESPN, while Sunday the team will make its SEC Network debut with Adam Amin and Michelle Smith calling the action.
Friday evening is Teacher Appreciation Day at the park, were the team is inviting all faculty and staff to come out to the game for free with a valid university ID. The giveaway item will be LSU softball branded hand sanitizers. Saturday is Kids Day, welcoming members of Mike's Kids Club to the field where the giveaway will be LSU wrist watches.
Sunday will be a big day as the series finale will also see the team welcome the Miracle League to Tiger Park for its annual Geaux Play Day, in honor of the initiative started by former Tiger Brittany Mack that takes new or gently used sports equipment and donates it to disabled children in the Baton Rouge area. The Miracle League kids in attendance will then get to play a game on the field following the conclusion of the game between LSU and Arkansas.
Coming off of a midweek win over the Northwestern Lady Demons Tuesday night, the Tigers quickly turn their attention to the visiting Razorbacks who come in winners of nine-straight after going 5-0 last weekend at the Lion Classic. Although the 22-0 start to the season has been a big boost of confidence to the team, head coach Beth Torina and the squad goes into the weekend preparing as if it a brand-new season.
“I think we want to make sure we're playing our best game, and I think we're trying to solidify a lot of things heading into the weekend,” Torina said. “It's nice only having one opponent versus five on the weekend, so we've had some time getting to know Arkansas and prepare to face the type of pitching they are going to show up with, and that we're prepared to attack the strong offense that they are going to bring.”
LSU will go into league play hitting .357 as a team, outscoring its opponents 176-27 after defeating the Lady Demons 11-0 in five innings on Tuesday. The Tigers have scored double-digit runs in each of its last four outings, while earning double-digit hits in three of those four contests. The team has had a penchant for making a statement early, outscoring teams 53-4 in the very first inning.
The Tigers will be led by senior A.J. Andrews, who took home a trio of national awards this week and leads the team hitting .529 with 12 stolen bases. In a span of three days she was named the SEC Player of the Week, Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I National Player of the Week and the espnW Softball Player of the Week after hitting .909 last weekend, as the Oldsmar, Florida native has been walked a team-leading 23 times so far this season.
Bianka Bell leads the team in hits with 32 and doubles with eight, currently one home run shy of setting a new all-time mark as she has 33 during her stellar career. Her .924 slugging percentage is tops on the squad, as well as her 61 total bases.
Extending her season and career-long hitting streak to 14 games with three hits on Tuesday, sophomore Bailey Landry is one game away from tying Andrews for the longest on the team among any player, and two away from owning and setting a new program record. The Gonzales, Louisiana, native is third on the team with a .484 batting average, second on the team with 30 hits.
If the season were to end today, nine starters would end the season hitting .250 or better, with eight having a .350 or better average. Emily Griggs is hitting .400, Sandra Simmons .385, Kellsi Kloss .373 and
Sahvanna Jaquish .365. Although she only has 23 hits, last year's second team All-American leads LSU in RBI's with 39, including drilling nine home runs as both of those marks also lead the SEC.
Although the offense has taken much of the spotlight for the fireworks it seems to produce every game, the LSU pitching staff continues to roll along to the tune of a staff earned run average of 0.99. If the season ended today it would be the third lowest in program history, as the “Fantastic Four” as they have been dubbed in Baylee Corbello, Carley Hoover, Kelsee Selman and Allie Walljasper combine to have an opponent batting average of a paltry .191.
Just on Tuesday, Corbello became the first pitcher this season to toss a no-hitter, going the distance by striking out eight in the win to move to 6-0. Nothing left the infield in her start, walking none as she nearly threw a perfect game in another quality start for the staff.
Walljasper leads the quartet with seven wins, 0.51 ERA, 41.1 innings pitched and six complete games, as she has allowed one hit for extra bases and three earned runs with only four walks. Hoover five wins are third, but her two saves are tops to go along with her 49 strikeouts, with an ERA of 1.30.
Selman rounds out the group with four wins, as in all but one of her five starts not only have the Tigers run-ruled an opponent, she's shut out the opposition with 32 strikeouts in 24 innings.
The tests will only get more daunting for the Tigers, as not only does SEC play begin this week, but over the course of the rest of the regular season, LSU could have up to 22 games against ranked opponents stretched across the next two months. Still, Torina and the team are focused on taking it as it comes and preparing for every opponent the same, instead of worrying about the best streak that LSU has ever seen.
“Ultimately, this is not a sport where you are going to go undefeated through 56 games. Especially not playing in the SEC,” she said. “It's nice to have the confidence from having the 22 wins already, but I think it creates no pressure because when league play starts everyone is 0-0 and every week is a new challenge you have to be prepared for.”