LSU softball coach Beth Torina hopes the Tigers do the stomping this weekend at her old stomping grounds

LSU softball coach Beth Torina remembers being on the ground floor of what’s become one of the nation’s top softball programs.

As a former walk-on pitcher the former Beth Dieter, a native of Orlando, emerged as one of the building blocks in a Florida program which began in 1997. Upon completing her career four years later, the Gators had reached a pair of NCAA regionals.

Now in her 10th season at LSU, Torina has had a pretty good template to emulate in the development of her program which she’s guided to four appearances in the Women’s College World Series. As a proud Florida alum, she’s watched veteran coach Tim Walton transform the Gators into a true powerhouse with back-to-back national championships in 2015-16.

“What they’ve done there is incredible,” Torina said. “I played there in year one. Seeing the growth of that program into what they’ve established is hard not to be proud of what they’ve done. Just watching the SEC as a whole, it is incredible. There’s no way I could have survived these athletes and these players the way they are now. I would not have gotten to play. I would have been getting water for everybody on the side.”

For the fourth time Torina will bring an LSU team to Gainesville to face Florida where she lightheartedly said the reception at Katie Pressly Seashole Stadium has become less inviting.

It’s no less challenging, though, when the No. 13 Tigers (18-8, 4-2 in SEC), face the No. 5 Gators (21-3, 5-1) in a key three-game Southeastern Conference series beginning at 5 p.m. Friday. Game two is set for Saturday at 5 and will be televised nationally by ESPN followed by the series finale at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Both teams are second and third, respectively, in the league standings and trail league-leading Arkansas (24-3, 6-0).

“It’s still really cool to go back,” she said. “They’re not as nice to me as they used to be. When I was at FIU, they thought I was great. Now that I’m here, they tell me I’m a disappointment because we’re competitive.

“It’s still just has a different feeling about it than anywhere else you go back there. It was home for a long time. It’s still really exciting to go back there. Every time else you go back, you a little less connected. But it’s still really cool going back. I really enjoy this trip a lot.”

In its last meeting vs. Florida, LSU took two of three games in Baton Rouge in 2019. The series was unable to continue in 2020 when the season was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic before the start of SEC play.

Torina has gotten a close-up of the rise of Florida’s program under Walton where the Gators are a staple on the national scene. She lost four of five games during her tenure as head coach at Florida International, but at LSU where she’s helped elevate the program into a perennial WCWS contender, the Tigers have won 7 of 21 games.

“He’s a great coach, he’s done great things, he gets his teams to win all the time, not just some of the time or just some of the years,” Torina said of Walton, now in his 16th season where he’s averaged more than 50 wins and taken Florida to 10 WCWS. “They always bring a really big challenge for us and it’s a challenge that’s really enjoyable, it’s fun, the matchup is exciting. Not just because I like going there and it’s a fun trip to go on. It’s fun to find the strategy against someone like that. It’s fun to challenge your athletes to beat a team that has so much history and is so historically good.”

Despite her self-deprecating humor, Torina remains one of the top pitchers in Florida history. She still ranks tied for ninth in wins (60), fifth in innings pitched (716.2), sixth in starts (105) and seventh in both shutouts (23) and appearances (139).

She became the first walk-on pitcher to ascend to the team’s No. 1 pitcher where in her final two seasons she served in that role and had back-to-back 20-win seasons.

The Gators were SEC regular season champions in Torina’s sophomore season and reached the NCAA regionals in both her sophomore year and senior season, the latter year in which she was 20-16 with a 1.75 ERA, 158 strikeouts and two no-hitters.

“It makes we feel like an old lady like, ‘I remember when’,” Torina said. “It is a special feeling. I hope Florida does well all the time except when they’re playing my Tigers. They’re definitely my second favorite team. It’s all about who my favorite team is. I was at Florida for four years and I’ve been at LSU for 10. My loyalties are definitely with the Tigers year-round.”

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