BATON ROUGE – The No. 17 LSU softball team is ready to begin its busy opening week of six games over a four-day span to start the 2014 season Thursday as No. 10 Texas visits Tiger Park.
Thursday’s first pitch is slated for 6 p.m. from Tiger Park, and the game will be carried by Cox Sports Television. Lyn Rollins and retired LSU Hall of Fame Coach Yvette Girouard have the call.
The Tigers begin their third season under the direction of head coach Beth Torina and play host to the first of three non-conference tournaments of the 2014 season over the weekend.
LSU welcomes Minnesota [Friday – 5 p.m.], SIU-Edwardsville [Friday – 7 p.m.], Oklahoma State [Saturday – 5 p.m.], Murray State [Saturday – 7 p.m.] and Central Arkansas [Sunday – 1 1 p.m.] for the three-day Tiger Classic which runs from Feb. 7-9.
“We are so excited to host such a great opponent in Texas with such a great record and tradition,” Torina said. “It is neat to have a season opener and not just be a part of a tournament. All of the teams in the Tiger Classic have the potential to do big things in their conferences. We are really excited about the season and what lies ahead of us.”
LSU has won 14 of its 17 season openers which includes an 8-0 victory over No. 22 North Carolina last season. It marks the fourth time in program history that the Tigers will begin the season with a ranked opponent.
LSU trails the all-time series with the Longhorns by a 3-2 margin. However, the Tigers won a 2-1 decision over Texas during the 2011 Purple & Gold Challenge. In fact, the last three meetings between the two teams have been decided by a 2-1 score. The Longhorns won two games over LSU during the opening weekend of the 2010 season in Austin.
LSU has won four of its six meetings with Oklahoma State. The Tigers won a 7-4 decision highlighted by Kailey McCasland’s three RBIs, while OSU took a 1-0 win in 2012. It will be the first time LSU will face the other four teams in the Tiger Classic field.
The Tigers have 14 returning letterwinners highlighted by A.J. Andrews, an NFCA All-American Third-Team and All-SEC First-Team pick. Bianka Bell and Jacee Blades also represented the Tigers on the 2013 All-SEC Second Team with Bell capturing the SEC’s Freshman of the Year award. All three players registered over a .340 batting average and combined for 104 of the team’s 255 RBIs.
Andrews has already been named to the 2014 All-SEC Preseason Team and was one of 50 players chosen to USA Softball’s Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List. She turned in a .359 batting average on a team-leading 71 hits and crossed the plate a team-leading 47 times last season.
Blades wasn’t an opening game starter last season but ended up occupying the No. 2 hole in the batting order behind Andrews in 54 of LSU’s 58 games last season. She came away with a .354 hitting clip and 22 RBIs. Her 62 hits were second-most on the squad.
Simone Heyward sparked the Tigers from the No. 9 spot in the lineup and racked up a team-leading .365 hitting clip during SEC action last season, good enough for 11th place among the league leaders. The Tigers have won 59 of 72 games when Heyward scores a run over the last three seasons.
Bell was the second player in program history to collect the SEC’s Freshman of the Year award joining former teammate and current student coach Rachele Fico in 2010. She registered a .347 batting average and cranked a team-leading 12 home runs along with 50 RBIs. The 12 dingers were tied for third-most in program history for a single season.
LSU brings back its entire starting infield from last season. In addition to Bell at shortstop, Allison Falcon returns to second base as a fifth-year senior. On the corners, Sandra Simmons and Tammy Wray occupied first base and third base, respectively. The Falcon-Simmons-Wray trio added 16 of the team’s 40 home runs along with 88 RBIs.
“Hopefully, defense wins championships because I’m really confident in our defense,” Torina said. “We put our outfield up against any outfield in the country. They are so quick and so talented. They have good arms, and they really cover a lot of ground. Our middle infielders both return. Allison is a field general and controls the field and puts everyone at ease. We have some very special athletes at the corners. Sandra is a hard-nosed player that will run through a wall for you, and Tammy has been a mainstay at third base for this program. She makes plays every day in practice that we just drop our jaws on because it is unbelievable.”
Corbello and Selman will play major roles on the pitching staff behind Ashley Czechner who is coming off a 12-1 mark last season. She notched a trio of Top 25 wins which included Missouri and Alabama. The South Carolina native was a 2013 NCAA Baton Rouge All-Regional Team pick after a career-high 15 Ks against Central Connecticut State.
“They’re very different,” Torina said. “Selman is more of a power-type pitcher. She does some phenomenal things on the mound and throws some great pitches. She still has a lot of growing to do as a pitcher. Baylee is one that I think the people of Louisiana know a lot more about with her being the Gatorade Player of the Year and all the accolades she came here with. She does so many things for the program. She is the type of pitcher that’s going to keep people off balance a little bit more with a change in speed. She’s going to help us in the lineup too. She can swing, she can hit and she can compete with anyone in our lineup.”
Every LSU softball game will have live stats available at www.LSUsports.net/livestats. Fans also can follow every pitch of LSU softball this season via live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsusoftball on Twitter.
The LSU Sports Radio Network will broadcast Friday’s game against SIU-Edwardsville on WNXX 104.5 FM and KYPY 104.9 FM in Baton Rouge. Patrick Wright and Matt Dunaway will serve as the broadcast team. KLSU 91.1 FM will carry Saturday’s games against Oklahoma State and Murray State.
The Tiger Park Ticket Office will open one hour prior to the first game of each day. Fans can purchase tickets on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12. Season tickets are on-sale for $75 and additional ticket information is available at http://www.lsutix.net/.