LSU softball’s young core group has head coach Beth Torina optimistic about the future

LSU shortstop Taylor Pleasants, the SEC's 2021 Newcomer of the Year, is part of a young group of Tigers forming a solid nucleus for the future.

Seven years ago when LSU’s softball team ventured to the University of Arizona, it landed in a competitive NCAA regional that went the five-game distance for the Tigers before the Wildcats emerged victorious and eventually advanced to the Women’s College World Series.
That 2014 LSU squad, with a freshman core group led by Savannah Jaquish and Bianka Bell, responded with three consecutive World Series trips in 2015-16-17, which formulated a solid foundation for the program.
“They were just hungry,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said. “They didn’t want to be in that spot again. They really blossomed into something special, and I hope we get the same response from this group.”
Torina sees similar characteristics from some members of her 2015 underclassmen, a group led by second team All-American and freshman shortstop Taylor Pleasants, freshman outfielder Ciara Briggs, sophomore first baseman Georgia Clark and sophomore pitcher Ali Kilponen.
They played a pivotal part in LSU’s 35-22 season and the program’s sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Super Regionals which the Tigers hosted.
The fact LSU, the nation’s No. 7 seed, dropped a pair of one-run games May 21-22 in the Super Regional to eventual national runners-up Florida State, not only served as an indication of a bright future, but also how close the program was to returning to Oklahoma City.
“That’s the thing that’s keeping us going at a time where we’re so sad about how we lost or how it happened,” Torina said. “The future of this program and the strength of the young players we have coming back is incredible. The leadership ability of some of these young players and thinking about them at the helm and just taking over gives me a lot of excitement about the future.”
Five freshmen comprising the majority of LSU’s starting lineup found themselves indoctrinated into an established culture of success by playing against the nation’s toughest schedule.
The Tigers showed growing pains along the way, incurring a record double-digit defeats against a challenging roadmap of opponents, but also developed resiliency. Only twice did they win the opening game of a three-game SEC series but managed to capture six of eight series and also followed that script in non-conference series wins over Texas and North Carolina State.
“They’re called the Fighting Tigers for a reason,” Torina said. “I think they’ll understand that fight and be able to show it. Now, they need to get over that fear of their opponent or whatever caused that in game one. They need to approach that game one with that same relentless attitude they approach games two and three and we’ll be in great shape.”
LSU’s underclassmen had the fortune of a senior class – Aliyah Andrews, Amanda Doyle, Maribeth Gorsuch, Akiya Thymes and Taryn Antoine – that returned for an additional year of eligibility. The veterans served as the perfect complement to the newbies with steady on-field performance and consistent off-field leadership.
LSU went 1-1 in the SEC’s postseason tournament and was awarded the opportunity to remain at home through the Super Regionals by virtue of its top-rated strength of schedule and seventh-rated RPI.
The Tigers increased their level of offensive execution with 20 runs in two straight NCAA regional wins over McNeese State and UL-Lafayette before having to endure a three-hit 2-0 shutout loss at the hands of UL-Lafayette, moving the Tigers a step closer to the end of the season.
In the deciding rematch, LSU led 3-2 through four innings before creating separation with a four-run fifth inning – three of which came from Clark’s home run – and Kilponen’s pitching made it stand up in a complete-game 8-5 victory.
When LSU hosted No. 10 Florida State, there was very little separating the two burgeoning postseason rivals who met for the third time in five years with each team winning once.
Junior pitcher Shelbi Sunseri lost a tough 1-0 decision in the first game. But LSU responded in the second game and behind Kilponen, led 2-0 until the sixth inning in a game with three lead changes.
Clark’s two-run homer in the fourth broke a scoreless tie until Florida State scored single runs in the sixth and seventh innings. Pleasants helped the Tigers regain a 3-2 lead in the eighth on a solo homer before the Seminoles, who featured five starters from their 2018 national championship team, tied the game on a two-out homer in the eighth and won in the ninth on a pinch-hit single.
“There’s a lot of parity in the game, there’s a lot of good teams,” Torina said. “There’s a lot of big moments throughout it. The game continues to grow and so do other teams. It’s going to come down to finding ways to win detailed moments of a game, win those inches. That can come down to the difference so many times, so we have to be prepared when we have opportunities and take them.”
LSU loses a couple of key five-year pillars in Andrews, a second-team All-American center fielder, and third baseman Doyle.
Andrews, who played in 268 games, wound up ranking in the top five of four LSU career offensive categories, including second in stolen bases with 145.
Doyle, who started in 262 of 265 games, finished tied for fifth in career home runs with 32.
Pleasants, the SEC’s Newcomer of the Year, highlights a talented group of returning players with a .316 average and a team-best 13 homers and 49 RBIs. Briggs is the returning leading hitter with a .339 average, four homers, 17 RBIs and 11 stolen bases, while Clark batted .252 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs.
Freshman first baseman/right fielder Raeleen Gutierrez batted .250, three homers and 18 RBIs and Sunseri had a .234 average, eight homers and 26 RBIs.
Kilponen (15-9, 2.00 ERA, 124 Ks, 139.2 IP) will anchor the Tigers pitching staff with Sunseri (11-7, 2.04 ERA, 84 KS, 126.2 IP) and Shelby Wickersham (5-3, 3.68, 43 Ks, 53.1 IP).
Torina will also welcome a six-member signing class rated in the top 10 nationally, led by Airline’s standout pitcher Raelin Chaffin, a first-team Class 5A All-State selection.
“I like the core of what we have, and I like the addition of the signing class,” Torina said. “All the young players are going to move into a leadership role and the mentality that it takes. They have a much different understanding now of what it takes. I trust these guys, not just their abilities, but their abilities to uphold the standards of the program and keep moving us forward.”

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William Weathers

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