LSU softball team loaded with so much talent it could have revolving lineup

If she gets a starting lineup figured out by her team’s Feb. 11 season opener, LSU softball coach Beth Torina isn’t so sure she won’t have a different opinion the following day.

The Tigers, ranked fifth in D1Softball’s preseason poll, have that much talent and depth.

“If I know on Thursday, then I’m going to wake up Friday and I’m not going to know, that’s how good this team is,” Torina said during Tuesday’s Zoom news conference. “We have so many good players. We’re just going to do our best and manage them because there’s a lot of deserving kids out here and we’re going to have to give opportunities to multiple kids at multiple positions.”

LSU is three weeks into its preparations for the 2021 season opening weekend, five games in four days in the team’s Tiger Classic.

The Tigers open with McNeese State on Feb. 11 at 5 p.m., face Duke and Central Arkansas on Feb. 12 at 4:30 p.m. and 7 o’clock, respectively, Kansas on Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m. and close with Central Arkansas on Feb. 14 at 12:30 p.m.

“Our whole team’s great,” LSU sophomore catcher Morgan Cummins said. “I’m so excited to see what we look like this year. We have so many people that work so hard at what they do.”

Torina, who begins her 10th season and has guided LSU to four trips to the Women’s College World Series, was quick to remind anyone within earshot that it’s hard to crack a lineup that’s returned intact.

The Tigers were 21-3 and ranked in the Top 5 nationally when their 2020 season was halted amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA extended an additional year of eligibility to spring sports athletes and LSU had four of its five-member senior class take advantage of the ruling for a fifth season.

“When you return the starting lineup, it’s tough to break in,” Torina said. “It’s so competitive.”

Since returning from the break between semesters, Torina said her team has tried adhering to the same protocols that got them through unscathed without a pause in its fall workouts

She said her team is scheduled to scrimmage three times this week, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but not with the entire 29-player roster at once.

The team is divided to maintain a workable number of players at once with the other portion of the team in a practice environment.

“It’s a lot more individualized than it’s ever been,” Torina said. “I know their softball skill set is ready because we’ve given them a ton of reps and a ton of opportunities. It’s really that team chemistry piece that we’re trying to figure out. We’re trying to come together as a group. It’s a larger roster than we’ve ever managed before, so coming together as a group is going to be more challenging with more people you have.”

Torina is hopeful of being able to conduct two more scrimmages next week before the start of its round-robin season-opening event.

Because 2020 ended so abruptly, it’s been nearly a year since players were involved in a competitive game. That’s why Torina has been adamant about having as many scrimmage settings as possible to create game-like situations as well as replicating the speed of the game at the plate and in the field.

“We feel like the game-like speed and situation is where we need to spend the majority of our time with the team,” she said.

LSU’s roster includes eight first-time freshmen. Newbies Danieca Coffey of Richwood, Texas and Morgan Smith of Phoenix, Ariz. received high marks from Torina a month into spring practice.

Coffey is expected to get playing time at either second or third base. Smith is projected to contribute to LSU’s talent-rich pitching staff as well as play in the outfield.

Both players have caught Torina’s eye at the plate.

“She just loves the game, you can see it on her face,” Torina said of Coffey. “She’s always smiling. She’s been a really tough out at the plate. I know our pitching staff has had a lot of trouble getting her out and I hope other teams will too. She can beat out an infield ground ball and then hit a ball in the gap and be standing on second.

“Morgan can really do a lot of things. It’s going to be interesting early to see how things shake out.”

Torina has set up a schedule that will undoubtedly provide her team with the competition it needs to achieve its stated goal, the Women’s College World Series.

The Tigers have 23 games scheduled against nine teams ranked in the D1Softball’s preseason Top 25, a group that includes No. 6, Florida, No. 7 UL-Lafayette, No. 8 Alabama, No. 9 Texas, No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 16 Arkansas, No. 21 Tennessee, No. 23 Missouri and No. 24 Kentucky.

LSU faces UL-Lafayette twice, hosting the Ragin’ Cajuns on Feb. 27, entertains Oklahoma State in a Feb. 26 doubleheader, hosts Texas in a three-game series March 5-6 and hosts Arkansas in a three-game SEC series May 1-3.

“We don’t back down from anybody,” Torina said. “We like to challenge our players. We want them to compete against the best so when it comes to the end of the year and the pressure is on, we’re ready for whatever comes at us.”

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