No. 5 LSU opens season with a 2-hit, run-rule shutout of McNeese State

LSU junior Shelbi Sunseri helps lead the top-seeded Tigers into Friday's Baton Rouge regional against fourth-seeded McNeese State at 3 p.m. at Tiger Park. Photo courtesy of LSU athletics.

For a team looking to play its first game in nearly an entire calendar year, LSU’s fifth-ranked softball team deserved a better fate than the one Mother Nature delivered.

The Tigers scored three times in the bottom of the first inning in support of winning pitcher Shelbi Sunseri, but a game that was already pushed back an hour because of inclement weather incurred almost a 90-minute delay because of lightning and torrential rain.

Not to worry, though, there was no way LSU wasn’t finishing what it started.

Especially with the way the 2020 season ended after 24 games amid coronavirus pandemic, the Tigers were eager to resume their season opener which concluded with a resounding 8-0 mercy-rule victory over McNeese State Thursday in the first game of the Tiger Classic.

“I think both teams felt the same, the kids wanted to play,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said. “They didn’t care. I had talked to McNeese’s coach (James Landreneau) before the game. We were playing this game. It had been too long, too much work, too much anticipation. We were playing this game and we’re fortunate we have an amazing grounds crew and staff that allowed this thing to happen.”

LSU (1-0) resumes play in the round-robin event at 6:30 p.m. Friday against No. 25 Duke.

LSU launched four home runs among its 11 hits and ended the game with two outs in the sixth inning on Sunseri’s solo homer to center field. She also finished with a complete-game two-hit shutout, striking out six with no walks in an 85-pitch outing in which she threw 59 strikes.

“It’s amazing that you come out on Day 1 and you’re as sharp as she was,” Torina said. “I was really impressed with her.”

Sunseri, who went 2-for-3 with a triple, was one of four players with multiple hits, a group that included Aliyah Andrews (2-4), Doyle (2-3) and Ciara Briggs (2-3, HR, 3 RBIs).

“It felt good to start the season off with a win,” Sunseri said. “I thought our team played phenomenal. We really hit the ball. Taylor Pleasants came out and just started the first inning off with a bang and I think set the tone for the rest of the game. Amanda Doyle followed, and she also did the same.

“I thought it was super cool how we started off with high energy. I thought as a whole we looked really good. I thought we set the tone for what’s to come this season.”

The long ball was prevalent in LSU’s victory, getting back-to-back homers from Pleasants and Doyle off McNeese starter Ashley Vallejo in the bottom of the first inning – a game that began with 49 degree temperatures and a north wind blowing at eight miles per hour.

The Tigers lead reached 3-0 in the opening inning when Taylor Tidwell was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, forcing in Georgia Clark who was part of her team’s three-hit inning with a single to center.

Sunseri retired the first nine batters she faced until yielding a single to McNeese right fielder Jill Poullard, whose hit to left-center field came on an 0-2 pitch.  She came back with three straight outs and then had to retreat indoors with her teammates once the game was initially halted because lightning was detected in the area.

“It’s a really a perspective of keeping your mindset the way you start the game,” Sunseri said of the weather delay. “Even when we went inside, you have to make sure you’re staying loose. Keeping the mindset the same is the key to coming back out and being successful. Keeping the tone, the same and I think our team did a really good job of coming back out and still keeping the tone how it was before the rain delay.”

McNeese was able to get out of trouble when the game resumed, concluding the fourth inning with a double play. But LSU struck for four runs on three hits and extended its lead to 7-0 in the fifth.

Sunseri, who tripled to lead off the inning, scored on a wild pitch during Raeleen Gutierrez’s at bat. LSU managed to keep the inning alive on a throwing error on fielder’s choice by Taylor Tidwell and Briggs, the team’s ninth-place batter, unloaded the first home run of her career – a three-run shot to center field.

Sunseri ended the game an inning later, following a pair of outs, drilling a 1-0 pitch from McNeese reliever Whitney Tate off the top of the fence in center field for a homer.

“It was amazing just to be out on the field again with my teammates,” Pleasants said. “It was really good. It was really fun.”

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