Torina elects to keep team in their element and playing with road date against N.C. State

LSU sophomore pitcher Ali Kilponen (10-4) helps lead the Tigers into a three-game, non-conference series at North Carolina State.

For nine years LSU softball coach Beth Torina hasn’t done it any other way.

When the opportunity has presented itself in the Southeastern Conference schedule, Torina’s always been proactive in keeping her team active with non-conference games instead enjoying a bye weekend.

“To me that was what was most important,” she said. “We kept them playing, we kept them in their routine.”

When the opportunity arose in this year’s league schedule Torina originally had agreed to host North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference in a three-game series that would help the Tigers avoid a 25-day span without a home game.

However, Torina said N.C. State apparently couldn’t get the trip approved as part of their budget and declined to travel, leaving LSU with the distinct possibility of having a hole in its schedule until the No. 16 Tigers (24-13) agreed to venture to Raleigh, N.C. and face the Wolfpack (21-11) a three-game series beginning at 4 p.m. Friday.

The series will feature a doubleheader Saturday at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

LSU last met N.C. State in Feb 2015, defeating the Wolfpack twice in the Tiger Classic.

“I don’t know but they couldn’t get the trip approved ultimately. I just have to take their word for it,” Torina said. “They weren’t going to come, and I didn’t want to take an off weekend. I didn’t think that was good for the team and it’s really tough to fill those late bye weekends. There’s only so many teams that are not in conference play in late April in the country.

“We kind of bit the bullet and decided we were going to take the trip,” she said. “We’re going to make the most of it. It’s kind of is what it is. We’re going to fight through the adversity and just give it our best effort.”

The trip to N.C. State is part of a nine-game road swing LSU began with a series win at No. 19 Missouri last weekend. The Tigers were rained out at McNeese State on Tuesday and will travel next week to Kentucky for their final road series in league play in the regular season.

“Nothing’s ideal this year, nothing’s worked out as planned,” Torina said. “There’s been challenge after challenge and this is another one, we have to do. It’s a challenge but I think it’s one that our team can handle, and I think they’ll understand.”

Perseverance was among the traits LSU tapped into at Missouri to kick-start its season-long road trip, overcoming a 9-1 setback in Friday’s first game with a doubleheader sweep on Sunday 4-2 and 12-5 after rain cancelled Saturday’s single game.

The Tigers did so on the durable right shoulder of sophomore pitcher Ali Kilponen, who won both ends of the doubleheader with a start in the first game and a relief appearance with her team trailing 5-1 in the first inning in the second game.

Kilponen (10-4, 1.55 ERA, 80 Ks, 72.1 IP) threw a total of 231 pitches in 13.2 innings of work. She allowed two runs on seven hits, walked six and struck out 15.

Senior center fielder Aliyah Andrews went 7-for-9 with a double and two RBIs in the doubleheader and was selected the SEC’s Player of the Week. She leads LSU in batting with a .368 average and is second in the SEC in stolen bases (22 of 23), followed by freshman shortstop Taylor Pleasants at .325 with eight homers and 33 RBIs and freshman left fielder Ciara Briggs (.314, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs).

Pleasants (3-5) homered and drove in three runs in Sunday’s second game and Briggs (3-4) and drove in two runs.

“It was obvious they wanted the series,” Torina said. “They weren’t going to back down and I think they really found themselves and learned a lot about what they’re capable of.”

Because of its offensive firepower, N.C. State compares favorably to Missouri, Torina said.

The Wolfpack, which are in fifth place in the ACC with a 14-11 record, rank ninth nationally (1.69) in home runs per game. They’ve hit 54 as a team, ranked fifth in the ACC in batting average (.291) and average nearly six runs a game.

Reigning ACC Player of the Week Angie Rizzi, a senior center fielder, is fourth in the league in hitting (.420) with eight homers and is tied with teammate left fielder Sam Russ with 21 stolen bases, ranking them second in the league.

Junior shortstop Randi Farricker is the ACC’s top home run hitter with 13 to go with a .321 average and 27 RBIs. Junior third baseman Logan Morris (.381) has seven homers a league-best 35 RBIs.

“Big powerful offense with a lot of home run numbers,” said Torina, whose team by comparison is hitting .267 with 41 homers and is 49 of 50 in stolen bases. “It’s flashy numbers they put in front of you that you have to get over that. It’s nice to have these teams back-to-back because you can draw a lot of similarities from the way they swing and the way they attack and how much offense they produce.”

The Wolfpack feature a pitching staff with the ACC’s ninth-best ERA (3.31) where Louisiana native and two-time transfer Abby Trahan is the team leader in wins with 10. The Kaplan native has a 3.62 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 67.2 innings of work.

“They’re definitely talented enough to beat us,” Torina said. “It’s going to be a challenge playing them three times at their place. We have to approach them just like they’re the best team on our schedule, just like an SEC opponent. Just like how we’ve played these other three-game series this season.”

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