Monday, November 21, 2016

LSU Profile: Bayou Bengals' Pitching Remains Supreme

General Overview/2016 Recap: Coming off of a 2015 season that culminated in a World Series semifinal appearance, Beth Torina’s Tigers were met with high expectations coming into the year, and despite some serious valleys during the year, met many of those same expectations with relative ease.

Sandra Simmons moved on to a
professional career after her graduation
following last season; her absence from the
Tigers leaves a gaping hole. (Photo:
Don Martukovich)
Two early losses helped take the pressure off the Tigers, including a humbling, hard-fought 2-1 loss to Pacific in the season-opening Baton Rouge-hosted Tiger Classic. At the Mary Nutter, the Tigers took a shutout loss to Arizona but emerged victorious in two following top-twenty matchups against UCF and UCLA.

Conference play began with an impressive series win over Alabama in Baton Rouge, delighting the home crowd and proving a stellar starting point for what many considered to be one of the nation's top title contenders.

A 30-8 beatdown of Louisiana Tech dotted the Alabama series and had the Tigers rolling high, a feeling that soon came crashing back to earth after a series loss to Texas A&M and a sweep at the hands of defending-champions Florida in Baton Rouge. The Tigers only managed to score two runs in the Florida series, a three-game set with such high stakes, the third game was even featured on ESPN2.

A series victory over Georgia seemed to get the Tigers back on track, only to be derailed the very next week with another sweep at home at the hands of Kentucky. The Kentucky series pointed out some of the squad's biggest areas in need of improvement, as the Wildcats only scored six runs and Kelsey Nunley and crew held the Tigers scoreless over twenty-one innings.

Torina's club began to peak again at the right time, taking series wins in the final three conference series' of the year, two by sweep, and besting PAC-12 foe Washington in a best-of-three series to end the regular season.

The Tigers made quick work of opponents in Starkville, Mississippi for the SEC tournament, besting Texas A&M and Kentucky in the preliminary rounds before overcoming Tennessee in extra innings to reach the championship game. Fellow Bengals of Auburn proved too much, however, and sent LSU home as conference runners-up, but in prime position for the NCAA postseason.

As seems to be the regular thing for the Tigers, nothing ever comes easy - regional victories over McNeese State and Arizona State were gritty and particuarly hard-fought. Advancing to Harrisonburg, Virginia for the James Madison-hosted Super Regional, the Tigers lost the first game of the Super on a walk-off hit, putting their backs against the wall before two consecutive pitching duels went their way to send Torina and Co. on to Oklahoma City.

In Oklahoma City, the Tigers took an early loss to Michigan before eliminating Alabama for the second straight campaign and Georgia similarly shortly thereafter. The Tigers' run came to an end with a loss to eventual-champs Oklahoma in the World Series semifinals.

Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P – Carley Hoover; Allie Walljasper; Sydney Smith
C – (Kellsi Kloss)
1B – (Sandra Simmons)
2B – Constance Quinn
3B – (Bianka Bell)
SS – Amber Serrett
LF – Elyse Thornhill
CF – Emily Griggs
RF – Bailey Landry
DP – Sahvanna Jaquish
Carrying the Clipboards: Beth Torina has proven to be one of the greatest recruiters in the game. The level of talent she is able to bring in to Baton Rouge on an annual basis, is nearly unimaginable. Historically a pitching coach, the circle is where her biggest surplus of talent lies. At times, however, she appears in over her head in a game-management situation and, as proven by the afore-mentioned valleys her team goes through also seemingly on an annual basis, occasionally will take a little while to come back from those difficult instances.

Hitting coach Howard Dobson, himself a former head coach, is a popular and very solid offensive mind. Some of the best offensive players in the country a season ago reside in Baton Rouge, and Bailey Landry and Sahvanna Jaquish, among others, return for a final season under Dobson’s tutelage in ‘17. Again, however, the issue remains of consistency. Landry, for her part, is remarkably consistent at the top of the Tiger lineup, but beyond that, work still needs to be done. Dobson can teach players to hit and hit well, but doing so consistently should be lesson #1.

Lindsay Leftwich, a longtime Torina subordinate, fills out the full-time coaching staff. The resident 'jack of all trades', she is the one primarily responsible for the Tiger defense. Two of the Tigers' historically-finest defensive stars graduated following last season, in Sandra Simmons and Kellsi Kloss, so Leftwich's job should be all the more interesting in 2017.

Additions: The Tigers welcome a freshman class of seven, including pitcher Maribeth Gorsuch, out of Lewisville, Texas.
Subtractions: Yet another star-studded senior class departed Baton Rouge following last season, a group that included three infield starters, including third baseman Bianka Bell; catcher Kellsi Kloss; and first baseman Sandra Simmons. The Tigers also lost fourth-string pitcher Baylee Corbello to McNeese State via transfer.

Scheduling: *This article will be updated when the team's regular-season schedule is released.

The Tigers will participate in the second weekend of the Mary Nutter Classic; they will play Utah; UCLA; Long Beach State; New Mexico State; and Bethune Cookman during that tournament.

In conference play, the Tigers will visit Alabama; Auburn; Ole Miss; and South Carolina, and will host Tennessee, among others.
Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths – As long as Beth Torina is in charge, the Tigers' pitching staff will always be an incredible strength. That remains the case this season, while Hoover; Walljasper; and Smith look to once-again dominate the conference from the circle. Speedy slapper Bailey Landry seems poised and ready for a swan-song breakout.

Weaknesses – The loss of the incredibly-consistent Simmons will not make for an easy role to fill. The batting order lacks much veteran depth, specifically in the middle of the order around Jaquish. The Tigers also need to figure out their inconsistency issues if they are to be seen as championship contenders throughout the regular season, though the team does seem to consistently "get hot" in the postseason, when it matters most.

Outlook for 2017: As has been the case for several years now, the Tigers' pitching will carry and set the tone for the squad in 2017. The team needs to be consistent to be seen as a legitimate threat through out the campaign, and they need to elevate to the top of the conference and sustain the position there. It remains to be seen how a fairly-young Tigers team would respond to having a theoretical target on their backs, but a 'trial by fire' could help shore them up before the postseason, when they will likely once-again challenge for a spot in Oklahoma City. The Tigers should easily make the NCAA tournament and put up some healthy competition, but I do not expect to see the squad back in Oklahoma City.

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