Torina hopeful difficult schedule will pay off when No. 17 Tigers meet No. 19 Missouri

LSU softball coach Beth Torina laid out the goal for her softball team this weekend.

It’s not exactly a secret and hasn’t changed for the past four weeks of Southeastern Conference play.

“It’s always to win every series,” she said. “Ultimately, we just need to go there and win one game, then after we win one game, we try to win the second game and if that works out, we try and win the third. If you win every series in the league, you’re in great shape. We’d love to sweep every series but that’s probably a bit unrealistic.”

Torina acknowledges that her team (22-12, 6-6 in SEC), which begins a 10-day road swing Friday, faces quite a challenge in traveling to No. 19 Missouri (28-7, 6-3) for the first of a three-game SEC series that begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be carried by SEC Network+.

The series resumes at 2 p.m. on Saturday (SEC Network+) and 1 p.m. on Sunday (ESPNU).

The homestanding Tigers, who are 8-1 at Missouri Stadium this season, feature one of the league’s most potent offenses which ranks first in the SEC in four different offensive categories ranging from batting average (.350), hits (336), runs scored (265) and doubles (66).

“Their numbers are pretty staggering,” Torina said. “They’re really talented. I don’t think anyone’s going to expect our pitching staff to go in and be perfect. I think that would be impossible. We’re just going to have to execute good pitches within the plan and we’re going to have to play solid defense for them.

“I think we’ve gotten some good performances on the mound. Shelbi (Sunseri) and Ali (Kilponen) have thrown well. Shelby Wickersham is a nice matchup with the down stuff, keeping the ball in the ballpark. We’ll give it our best shot and our offense is going to have to step up and swing with them.”

LSU, which is a spot behind fourth-place Missouri in the SEC standings, hasn’t faced the Columbia Tigers since taking winning a series against them in 2018.

Since that last matchup, Missouri has undergone a coaching change with Larissa Anderson now in her third season. Her team has won seven of its last eight games and is coming off a road sweep against South Carolina.

Torina believes deep down, though, that the schedule she’s put her team through – rated the nation’s second toughest – can pay dividends in a series like this one.

This week’s series will push LSU’s total to 19 games played against ranked teams in which the Tigers are 6-10, including a 4-8 mark against Top 10 teams.

“I don’t think anybody in the league has played anything close to that,” she said. “The people at the top of the conference are playing a completely different schedule than what we’ve played. It’s also tough to stay confident within that schedule. It’s been really challenging with five kids that have never played a full season in our starting lineup. It’s been tough.”

Missouri’s biggest strength is derived from a group of players – senior second baseman Kim Wert, senior catcher Hatti Moore and senior outfielder Cayla Kessinger – that have combined for 93 home runs during their career.

Freshman shortstop Jenna Laird (.439) is the team’s leader and sixth in the SEC followed by senior center fielder Brooke Wilmes (.382, 6 HRs, 35 RBIs), Wert (.359, 11 HRs, 35 RBIs) and Moore (.320, 13 HRs, 32 RBIs).

LSU counters with a pitching staff 10th in the SEC in ERA (2.65), led by sophomore Ali Kilponen (8-4, 1.67 ERA, 65 Ks, 58.2 IP) and Sunseri (6-4, 1.89, 56 Ks, 70.1 IP).

Senior center fielder Aliyah Andrews (.345, 2 HRs, 14 RBIs, 19 stolen bases) has surged back atop the team’s batting leaders for a lineup facing a Missouri pitching staff ranked 11th in ERA (3.09).

Shortstop Taylor Pleasants (.321, 6 HRs, 28 RBIs) is part of a talented group of freshmen that includes second baseman Danieca Coffey (.311, 4 RBIs) and outfielder Ciara Briggs (.301, 2 HRs, 9 RBIs, 8 stolen bases).

“We’ve got to keep battling it out, keep trying to pump them up, keep making them feel good about themselves,” Torina said. “They’re great players. They’re talented players, but they’ve been through a gauntlet schedule. Our schedule in the SEC is challenging, too.”

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William Weathers

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