After writing out her first lineup card of the 2021 season, LSU softball coach Beth Torina was reminded about her team’s youth.
Sure, the Tigers returned all of their starters from last year’s coronavirus-shortened 24-game season which included limited experience, none against Southeastern Conference competition.
LSU began this season with an 8-0 run-rule victory over McNeese State, starting six freshmen and sophomores, a group that have been regulars through the first four games which have been in Tiger Park.
Now eighth-ranked LSU (3-1) will leave the comforts of home this weekend for one of the nation’s top college softball environments. The Tigers make their first appearance in the 22nd annual Easton Bama Bash hosted by fifth-ranked Alabama at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
The Tigers face both Liberty (6-1) and Alabama (5-0) in doubleheaders on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and again Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“It’s exciting to be able to play super good opponents,” LSU senior centerfielder Aliyah Andrews said. “When you play big schools and teams that are ranked high, you’ve got to play to win, not play to not lose. Just giving all that you have is a good feeling knowing that you’ve got nothing to lose. You’re going out there and playing your hardest. You’re going to have good competition and facing good competition just prepares you for anybody else you’re going to play.”
LSU was originally scheduled to take part in the St. Petersburg Clearwater (Fla.) Elite Invitational national tournament but the event became a COVID-19 casualty.
With the Tigers looking to fill a void in their schedule for this week, Torina said she jumped at the opportunity for her team to match up with the likes of Alabama and Liberty.
“It was somewhere we could bus to pretty easily and we thought we could stay safe in the COVID climate and get to play some quality opponents early in the year,” she said. “We’re excited. The only way we get better is by continually challenging our team. We will definitely have a challenge this weekend with everybody in that tournament. It’s all good, quality opponents. I don’t think we understood how young we were because we felt like we returned everybody and it’s all the same.”
Because of the SEC’s schedule rotation, LSU and Alabama are not set to meet this spring in conference play. The last time two of the league’s traditional powers met was in Baton Rouge in 2019 with the Crimson Tide sweeping a conference series.
Alabama, the SEC coaches 2021 preseason pick to win the league followed by LSU, opened with four shutout victories by a combined 29-0 and defeated Liberty, 6-3, in Friday’s opening game.
Junior pitcher Montana Fouts, who picked up a win over LSU in 2019, is the SEC’s reigning Pitcher of the Week after she threw 11 shutout innings.
“I’m very excited,” LSU freshman shortstop Taylor Pleasants said. “We’ve heard stories about how SEC games go and how the atmosphere is so different. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”
LSU begins play against Liberty of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Flames, the preseason choice to win their league, are off to their best start in 13 years, having outscored their opponents 41-10. They are led by ASUN Preseason Player of the Year in senior second baseman Amber Bishop-Riley.
The Tigers were able to play once this week, battling through extreme cold temperatures to blast North Dakota 19-3 in a five-inning mercy-rule win.
Senior third baseman Amanda Doyle continued her torrid start with a pair of home runs and a career-high seven RBIs in the game, increasing her season totals to a .571 batting average with five homers and 11 RBIs.
Freshman outfielder Ciara Briggs brings in LSU’s top average at .600 with a pair of homers and 5 RBIs, while pitcher/designated player Shelbi Sunseri is batting .455 with 2 homers, 4 RBIs and a pair of doubles.
Sunseri is also off to a solid start in the circle with a 2-0 record, a shutout and 7 strikeouts in 8.2 innings of work.
“You get better as you play in this sport, especially going to big schools like Alabama,” Andrews said. “I think all the young people that are going to see how we travel and be in an environment like Alabama, is going to prepare them for any other game that we have moving forward. You don’t get a much better environment than Alabama. I think it will help prepare all of us.”