BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU softball team opens the toughest stretch of the 2014 schedule on Friday, as the Tigers host No. 1 Florida for a three-game SEC series at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge. Game times for the weekend tilt against the Gators are set for 6 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and Noon on Sunday.
All three games of the series will be carried on the radio home of the LSU softball team on ESPN 104.5 and 104.9 FM in Baton Rouge, and can be assessed by Geaux Zone subscribers at www.LSUsports.net/live with play-by-play provided by Patrick Wright and analyst Matt Dunway calling the action.
Game’s two and three will air live on Cox Sports Television with Lyn Rollins and retired LSU softball coach Yvette Girouard. Former LSU All-American Brittany Mack will serve as sideline reporter for both games as well.
With Friday serving as the SEC home opener for the Tigers, all fans are encouraged to wear gold, as the first 1,000 through the gates will receive a gold “Locked In” bandana.
Saturday will have a distinctly green feel, as the first 750 fans in attendance will receive a color-changing water bottle to Geaux Green along with it also being East Baton Rouge Parish night.
The finale will also be the Miracle League Geaux Play day, as the first 1,000 that arrive for the game will receive trading cards featuring the LSU softball players and coaching staff. LSU head women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell will also be on hand to toss out the ceremonial first pitch.
For the first time since 2011, the Tigers (17-8, 1-2 SEC) will go into the second week of conference play looking to wash out the taste of a SEC opening weekend series loss after dropping the last two games to newly-ranked Auburn last weekend. Over the course of the next five weekends, the challenges will only grow for the team as they will take on teams ranked in the top 20 of both national softball polls, beginning with top-seeded UF up first.
“I think we’ve shown that we can play really well with these teams, and with anyone really,” head softball coach Beth Torina said. “It’s a matter of being consistent with that performance. We’ve shown we’re capable of it, now we have to go out and do it on a regular basis.”
Going into this weekend, Torina is one win away from earning her 100th victory at the helm of the Tigers in just her third season with the program. With a possible win over the program where she starred as a pitcher for four years from 1997-2000, Torina will become the fourth head coach in program history to top the 100-win plateau in Purple and Gold.
The Tigers began a hectic week with a thrilling comeback victory over the Northwestern State Lady Demons in Natchitoches, and took that confidence into the SEC opener against Auburn where they rallied to win 4-1. With two chances to claim the series, the LSU offense was held to just four runs over the course of the final two contests, even as the team outhit Auburn in all three games.
“Last weekend showed a lot of the things we need to do to get better,” Torina said. “It gave us a chance to work on a lot of things here at practice, and it’s nice that we had a full week to get prepared for Florida and improve in a lot of areas.”
LSU enters the weekend in the middle of the pack in the Southeastern Conference in batting average with a .319 clip along with Texas A&M. That number is 20 points higher than where the team was last season, as the squad has pieced together 13 more hits through the same amount of games from last year.
One area where the team has not slacked off is in the stolen base department, as the Tigers are fifth in the nation and lead the SEC with an average of 2.44 stolen bases per game. The swiped bags is the highest ranking team category for the group, as the club is 17th in triples per game, 32nd in home runs per game and 34th in batting average and fielding percentage.
Leading that charge for the group is junior outfielder A.J. Andrews who leads the squad with a .407 batting average which is in the top ten in the conference. The Oldsmar, Fla., native hit .556 in the opening weekend of league play and racked up a .538 average over the week with seven hits, an RBI and four runs scored. Andrews is ninth in the country averaging nearly a stolen base per game.
After starting the season a little slower than expected, sophomore infielder Bianka Bell has blasted her way to the top of the statistical charts as she is currently sporting a .348 hitting percentage and slugging a whopping .742 with six home runs and 19 RBI. She finished last week second on the team in hits with four as she drove in three with a double and home run to her credit.
Falcon currently leads the league and is second in the country in triples as she earned her fourth of the year against Auburn. Falcon accounts for half of team’s total number of triples this season and is averaging 0.17 triples per game which also leads the conference.
Simmons is currently seventh in the country with her league-leading three sacrifice flies on the season, as she drove in two and scored once over the week.
Of the four runs on Saturday against Auburn, Jaquish accounted for two as she became the first player this season to go yard twice in a single game with two solo shots. Tied for the team lead with Bell, Jaquish leads the team in RBI with 24, as she is averaging nearly an RBI per game.
Kloss hit the go-ahead home run against the Lady Demons to give the Tigers the lead for good, and drove in the insurance run in the same game as she comes in with a .303 batting average and is one behind Bell and Jaquish in home runs with five.
Bailey Landry has begun to come into her own in right field, as she had the second-highest batting total for the team last week and is currently hitting .348 with two doubles and six RBI.
Looking to get back on the right track will be the LSU pitching staff that combined for a team earned run average of 3.50 that gave up 13 earned runs on 17 hits with five home runs given up and matched the entire total from the season before that.
Kelsee Selman saw work in three games, earning one win while pitching in 11.1 innings allowing just two hits total. Selman is third in the country in hits allowed per seven innings, averaging 2.27 given up to opponents.
Baylee Corbello is 48th on that same list and went 1-1 last weekend after having her six-start winning streak snapped in the finale on Sunday. Corbello’s overall ERA of 1.34 is still the lowest among the group and is tenth in the SEC.
Senior Ashley Czechner will look to get back to the action that she had during her three-game winning streak as she is currently 5-5 on the season and has been on the losing side of a handful of starts. Czechner has started nine games and appeared in 11 with 60 innings of work under her belt so far this year.
The Gators come into the game after taking a doubleheader against Mercer on Wednesday to move to 26-1 on the season. Florida had won 22-straight until they dropped its conference series opener to Ole Miss before coming back to win the next two to take the series.
Kelsey Stewart and Lauren Haegar provide the pop to Florida’s fourth-best SEC offense as they combine for 70 hits, 12 home runs and 61 RBI, while the pitching staff and overall 1.15 ERA is the best in the league.
“(Florida) doesn’t make mistakes and they do everything very well,” Torina said. “They really have solid pitching and I think that’s their greatest strength this year. Ultimately, in everything they do they just don’t make many mistakes.”
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.