Not even the comforts of home could make LSU senior pitcher Maribeth Gorsuch feel completely at ease.
Instead of the usual warm and fuzzy feeling that awaits on the other side of the front door of her Lewisville, Texas home, Gorsuch is trying to come to grips with the empty feeling in her stomach over the past month since LSU’s season was cancelled by coronavirus pandemic.
“It was hard adjusting because we’re supposed to be in season and now we’re sitting at home social distancing,” Gorsuch said. “It was definitely an emotional first couple of weeks. I just was so grateful to be a part of a team that was so special and talented and that it was ripped away from us.”
LSU, which finished the season ranked fifth nationally, was 21-3 and prepared to leap into the start of Southeastern Conference play March 13 with a three-game road series at South Carolina.
Gorsuch was enjoying the best start of her career, having compiled a 4-1 record, 1.14 earned run average with 42 strikeouts and seven walks.
The highlight took place Feb. 22 when Gorsuch threw the first perfect game of her career in a 4-0 home victory over Belmont. It was the first seven-inning perfect game in LSU softball’s 26-year history and 11th in SEC history.
It was the kind of season that any competitor such as Gorsuch didn’t want to see come to a premature end, especially after the manner in which the pitching staff had melded its talents.
“It’s really cool that we’re in a rotation where there’s not really an ace,” Gorsuch said of LSU’s pitching staff that also included junior Shelbi Sunseri along with sophomores Ali Kilponen and Shelby Wickersham. “Other teams have to focus on four or pitchers and none of us are alike. We all do something different; we all throw different speeds. We all have different movements on the ball.
“That’s also what helped us be effective and we complemented each other so well. It wasn’t just on the field, but off the field as well. We wanted to see each other do well. When you have a staff that bonds that much and loves each other, and wants each other to succeed, we had the ability to take the LSU program a long way.”
In the initial stages after the cancellation of the South Carolina series, followed later by the NCAA’s decision to cancel the Women’s College World Series and thus halting the season, Gorsuch felt a great deal of despair. There was the realization of a promising season that was derailed, but that was only compounded by the thought of seeing her career come to an end along with four other seniors.
There was only scuttlebutt the NCAA was considering extending the eligibility of all spring sports seniors, a development that became official March 30.
Before the NCAA’s ruling, Gorsuch indicated she planned to return in 2021 in the role as a student-coach in which she could work with next year’s pitching staff as well as complete her degree.
Now, she’s hopeful of being able to resume in 2021 where she left off in 2020.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” Gorsuch said. “The only information you know in that moment is that your season is over and that the team was in such a good spot. This team was so special and for it to be taken away was an awful feeling.”
Gorsuch was trending in a positive direction a year after she was 13-4 as a junior with a save to go along with a 2.52 ERA, 10 complete games and seven shutouts. She made 21 starts in 27 appearances, throwing a career-high 111 innings with 61 strikeouts.
“My freshman year was more of a developmental year, learning the ropes of being a college athlete and what to do and what not to do,” Gorsuch said. “My sophomore year I learned behind Carley (Hoover) and Ali (Walljasper), how they competed and how they were successful.
“I was more experienced in my junior year and tried to step up into a leadership role. I took the younger pitchers, showed them the way and how to do it and I kind of forgot about what I needed. This year it helped the girls were experienced. I trusted in the process more. I stayed in that leadership role, but I remembered to focus on myself as well, that I had to take care of myself if I wanted to perform.”
Gorsuch began work on her first National Fastpitch Coaches Association national Pitcher of the Week honor before the Belmont game. She took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against Louisiana Tech, allowing a one-out single on a 3-2 pitch. She responded with a pair of strikeouts to punctuate the 11-1 victory.
Three days later, with LSU hosting its four-game Purple & Gold Challenge, the Tigers were concluding play against Belmont. LSU already beaten the Bruins from Nashville 8-0 on Kilponen’s one-hitter in the opener of the round robin event, and it was up to Gorsuch to close out an undefeated weekend for the Tigers.
“Every game I’m fired up and excited,” Gorsuch said. “I had a little fire in me. That I wanted to do something special for LSU softball and the community. There was no perfect game in my head, nothing about a no-hitter. I just wanted to do well, be a spark for the team. I wanted us to come out excited and fiery.”
LSU scored single runs in the first and third innings and padded that lead with two runs in the fifth.
Gorsuch was in complete control from the outset, throwing 21 first-pitch strikes facing the minimum 21 batters. She fanned the side four times en route to a career-best 16 strikeouts, including eight straight from the second through fourth innings.
She ran the count to three balls on three different occasions but maintained a perfect game which she finished by striking out all three batters for Belmont in the seventh.
Afterwards, LSU coach Beth Torina was almost speechless.
“She did some things that I’ve never seen in my entire career on a softball field,” Torina said. “Twenty-one first-pitch strikes is unheard of, I don’t know if I have ever been a part of something like that.
“M.B. has really embodied what this program means. We call it `Living Tigers’ and she’s done it for her entire career so it’s fitting that she is the first one.”
Gorsuch recalled a key was not mentally getting ahead of herself.
“I focused on the present each inning, just being where my feet were and one pitch at a time,” said Gorsuch, who had a pair of assists and a putout among her flawless masterpiece. “I just trusted my defense and trusted in my coach. Before you knew it, we were in the seventh inning and had two outs. I could feel butterflies in my stomach, especially after the first two outs. I tried to stay in the moment.”
Gorsuch credited freshman catcher Cait Calland for her inspiration.
“She kept me fired up, talked to me the whole game,” she said. “We each got a (game) ball. The coolest thing was after the game the entire team celebrated by giving one big team hug. That was my favorite part, watching how excited they were for me and the smiles they had on their faces.”
The game ball occupied space in Gorsuch’s off-campus apartment until LSU shut down and asked students to move off campus or back their respective homes.
In the case of Gorcuch’s new keepsake, she handed it to her father Doug Gorsuch with specific instructions.
“Don’t lose it,” she said with a hearty laugh, noting plans are underway to order a protective case to display the ball in the family’s home.
The transition moving back home has been gradual. Gorsuch has become comfortable taking all of her courses online, while mixing in weight workouts devised by the coaching staff and strength and conditioning coaches.
She said there’s been some creative measures taken, such as loading up backpacks full of textbooks for squatting and lifting, while pitching workouts generally have taken place in her yard.
Teammates have shared videos of the variety of ways they’ve tried to be active and remain sharp, turning their collective focus to the 2021 season which will undoubtedly carry the memory of what could have been from 2020.
“At first, I didn’t think about eligibility, the what ifs,” Gorsuch said. “The weeks leading up to finding out whether we would get our eligibility back was a nail-biter. I was so nervous and anxious. I knew there was no doubt in my mind. I wanted to finish off my career at LSU on a good note. It’s so exciting and it’s going to be a great year in 2021.”
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