After a weekend in which LSU’s softball experienced pitching and defensive deficiencies in a pair of losses at fifth-ranked Alabama, the Tigers gained redemption Tuesday in both areas.
Pitchers Shelby Wickersham and Ali Kilponen each threw complete-game shutouts and LSU’s offense did just enough in a 3-0 and 2-0 doubleheader sweep over Central Arkansas at Tiger Park.
The Tigers defense, which committed eight errors in four games at the Easton Bama Bash, was flawless in both wins over UCA.
“I think we needed it for our mentality, especially going into this weekend where we’re going to play some really good, ranked opponents,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said.
LSU (7-3) will take part in the UL-Lafayette/LSU Invitational, traveling to Lafayette to face the No. 9 Ragin’ Cajuns at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Tigers play the final four games in Tiger Park, hosting No. 11 Oklahoma State in a doubleheader Friday at 4:00 and 6:30 p.m., then take on the Ragin’ Cajuns at 3 p.m. Saturday followed by a game with Buffalo at 5:30 p.m.
Kilponen, who was pulled from her start after the third inning in last Saturday’s game with Liberty University, battled back against Central Arkansas by firing the fifth shutout of her career in Tuesday’s second game. She allowed three hits, no walks and struck out 14, one shy of her career best.
“I felt completely like myself again,” Kilponen said. “Like I went in there and did what I’ve always done. I was really calm and worked on throwing a good pitch every pitch and trusting myself. Trusting my catcher to help me win pitches and trusting my defense and offense to help me out.”
Kilponen had a perfect game through three innings until allowing a lead-off single to UCA’s Jenna Wildman in the fourth. Kilponen responded with three straight strikeouts and stranded Wildman at first.
UCA (3-7) got a runner as far as second base in the fifth when Kilponen got a flyout to right field and a strikeout to end the inning.
Kilponen struck out the side, sandwiched around a one-out single in the sixth, before retiring the Bears in order in the seventh.
“There are still a few things we have to clean up, but I thought she looked really good,” Torina said of Kilponen. “She needed that for her mentality and just to come out and execute how we have seen her at practice all the time and finally bringing that to a game was exciting.”
LSU, which had five hits, scored all of its runs in its first plate appearance with a lead-off single from Aliyah Andrews (2-for-2, BB, SB) who scored on the fourth homer of the season from Taylor Pleasants to left field.
“I went in sitting outside,” Pleasants said. “The last time we played them last year they got me out on outside (pitches) every time. I dove in and got the outside pitch.”
In the opening game, LSU took a 1-0 lead in the second on a lead-off triple from Ciara Briggs and a sacrifice fly from Taylor Tidwell to right.
The Tigers, who had four hits against UCA’s Rio Sanchez, didn’t score again until the sixth when Amanda Doyle singled in Andrews and Georgia Clark singled through the left side of the infield, driving in pinch-runner Akiya Thymes.
Wickersham appeared twice over the weekend, throwing 2.1 innings of relief against Liberty but wasn’t able to get out of the fourth inning (3.2 IP, 8 hits, 9 runs) in Sunday’s 13-5 loss to Alabama.
The native of New Orleans allowed four Central Arkansas hits with four walks and six strikeouts. She allowed one base runner to reach third base in the fifth inning but was backed up by a defense that turned a double play and catcher Morgan Cummins threw out a runner trying to steal second.
“Me and Ali struggled a little bit this past weekend but to be able to come back and have an opportunity to compete today was a great thing for both of us,” said Wickersham, who retired the last seven batters she faced. “To have our teammates have our backs out there was exciting and to make the plays for us.”