BATON ROUGE – Coming off of a strong performance last week at the prestigious Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, the No. 22 LSU softball team returns home to host its final tournament of the season in the 2014 Purple and Gold Challenge against Harvard, Iowa State, Jackson State and Lamar this Friday through Sunday at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers will play four games this weekend, beginning on Friday with Harvard at 4:30 p.m. before taking on Jackson State in the nightcap at 7 p.m. The team will follow the same schedule on Saturday as well, this time closing the event with Iowa State then Lamar in the finale. There will be a total of 12 games played over the three-day event, which begins at 9 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Fans who come to Saturday’s games against the Cyclones and Cardinals will receive Purple and Gold Mardi Gras Beads while supplies last. Live stats of the entire tournament will be provided at www.lsusports.net/livestats, as the LSU Sports Radio Network will have the broadcast of LSU’s Friday night game and both contests on Saturday on 104.5 and 104.9 FM and in the Geaux Zone at www.lsusports.net/live. Patrick Wright and Matt Dunaway will be on the call.
Winners of four of five last week, and seven of their last ten overall, the Tigers enter the tournament this weekend playing some of their most consistent softball heading into the Challenge, sitting at 12-5 overall on the season and moving up one spot in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 and two spots in the ESPN/USA Softball Top 25 to No. 21. This will be the final tune-up for the squad with the first weekend of Southeastern Conference play looming next weekend.
“Our focus this week has really been on ourselves, and just trying to make sure we’re in a good spot fundamentally because we know in about seven days we’re going to be heading off to our first SEC opponent,” head softball coach Beth Torina said. “We’re going to use these games this weekend to continue to ready ourselves and get prepared for next week.”
The Tigers were really able to boost its confidence not only at the plate but against some of the best competition in the country at the MNCC, going 2-1 against ranked opponents during the event. LSU handed Washington its first loss of the season and came back to defeat Stanford, with the team’s only loss to Oregon who moved up to No. 4 in the polls this week.
With those wins, Torina is now six away from becoming the fourth head coach in team history to earn 100 victories at the helm of the LSU program.
After hitting .350 at the tournament, LSU’s batting average sits at .336 on the year and sits third in the SEC with 145 hits and second in doubles with 14. Where the team is really making its mark is with its power, as the 18 home runs the team has through just 17 games this year is three ahead of last year’s pace through the same amount of games. That number has the Tigers fifth in the conference in that category, as they’ve hit one in each of the last five games.
“It’s been nice to see the power numbers added to our speed,” Torina said. “The speed has been what has carried us in the past, and to see that increase and see some of the players improve and have a year under Coach Dobson’s system has been huge. It’s given them more confidence, making them more comfortable at the plate and really understanding their swings.”
Leading the offense after a breakout week is senior outfielder Jacee Blades who is hitting a team-leading .444 on the year with .455 on-base percentage and slugging .481. Blades accumulated 16 hits over seven total games last week for a hitting percentage of .667, as she is currently one game shy of tying her career mark for a hitting streak which stands at eight games.
A.J. Andrews is currently tops in the SEC with 12 stolen bases, while she is second on the team in hits and average with 21 and .420, respectively. While she’s been a force on the bases, Andrews has been steady at the plate as she hit .500 last week with a double and triple among her eight hits, with four RBI as well.
Flying around the bases so far this season has been infielder Allison Falcon, who’s three triples is the most in the SEC. Leading the team with 16 RBI, the Donaldsonville, La., native has four home runs to her credit this year which is tied for second with Kellsi Kloss, as her solo home run against Stanford when the team was down 3-1 was the first of four unanswered runs the team would garner to rally and defeat the Cardinal to close the MNCC.
Kloss, who has been the catcher and designated player, leads the team with four doubles, as her four RBI against Long Beach State were a season-high. Kloss is right behind Blades with her six-game hitting streak, which is second-longest on the team this season.
One of the steadying players in the infield has been Sandra Simmons who is hitting .318 on the year but has yet to commit an error at first base. Simmons has started all 17 games for the Tigers, with two multiple hit outings.
Bianka Bell and her team-high five home runs are second individually in the SEC, as she has one in four of the last eight contests, while Sahvanna Jaquish is second on the team in RBI with 15, with three games this season of three runs driven in.
In the circle, freshman Baylee Corbello continues to impress as she’s won each of her last four starts heading into the weekend. At 6-2 with a 1.21 earned run average, her 52.0 innings pitched is second-most among hurlers in the league. She and Ashley Czechner, who earned the win over Washington last Thursday, is 5-3 and has struck out at least six in a game twice this year.
Although the duo of Corbello and Czechner have earned the bulk of the starts, Kelsee Selman should see some time in the circle as well, as she’s made four appearances with three starts and a 1-0 record.
“We’ll make sure everybody’s sharp this weekend,” Torina said. “Selman will definitely see some time this weekend. She’s so talented, and we just need to get her confidence up and the others will continue to work to stay sharp. The biggest thing is to get them to continue to work on their strengths so that they can be prepared to compete in the SEC next week.”
Three of the four teams will be first-time opponents for LSU, as Jackson State is the only squad that has played the Tigers in the regular season previously. Lamar, only in its second year of existence as a program, has been a part of fall tournaments here on campus, but this will be the first during the season along with Harvard and Iowa State. The Tigers are 4-0 all-time against JSU, while the Cyclones come in with the best record among the group at 12-2 on the year.
“We’ll definitely have to show up with our best game to play any of these teams,” Torina said. “Iowa State comes from a great conference and I know some of the coaches on Harvard’s team so they will be coached well also. Lamar is a young program, but they seem to be progressing every year and it’s the same for Jackson State, so we’ll definitely need to be ready to play on Friday.”
For all of the latest news and information on Tiger softball, visit www.lsusports.net/softball. Fans can also follow the program on its social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball along with @lsusoftball and @BethTorina on Twitter and @lsusb on Instagram.