LSU softball: Takeaways from Tigers’ opening weekend

Nov 29, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers mascot Mike the Tiger performs in the second half against the Houston Cougars at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU won 84-65. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers mascot Mike the Tiger performs in the second half against the Houston Cougars at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. LSU won 84-65. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports /

Coming off the first back-to-back Women’s College World Series appearances in program history, the No. 4 LSU softball team opened its 2017 season with a 4-1 record in the Tiger Classic.

The Tigers showcased a new look with brand-new jerseys and a talent-laden freshman class.

The departure of Kellsi Kloss and Bianka Bell, who combined for 95 home runs and 385 RBIs in their careers, opened the door for freshman power hitters to emerge for the first time since senior catcher Sahvanna Jaquish was a freshman in 2014.

Freshman infielder Sydney Springfield led the Tigers with eye-catching numbers at the plate, going 8 for 13 with five RBIs.

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“It would be a great weekend for anyone let alone a freshman,” said LSU head coach Beth Torina following the Tigers’ win against Oklahoma State on Sunday. “We’ve been excited about her all the way through the recruiting process.”

But Springfield wasn’t the only freshman to excel at the plate in her LSU debut weekend.

Fellow freshman infielder Amanda Doyle went 6 for 12 with three RBIs and two doubles in the Tiger Classic.

Position Battles Reveal Depth 

Competition for playing time took center stage throughout the Tiger Classic with 12 different players notching at least one start, including three freshmen.

With returning starters set at catcher, second base, shortstop, right field and center field, three positions remain open for the Tigers: first base, third base and left field.

First Base

Former LSU first baseman Sandra Simmons started every game during her career and tallied a .983 fielding percentage. Although Simmons played 17 games at left field in her last campaign while Jaquish took over first base duties, Jaquish will spilt her time between catcher and third base during this season.

In 2017, Doyle and Springfield are vying to become Simmons’ replacement.  Doyle earned one more start at first base with than Springfield during the Tiger Classic. Sophomore Elyse Thornhill also made several appearances as a substitute at first.

Third Base

Last season, Bell started the majority of games at third base after transitioning from playing shortstop during her first three campaigns. Jaquish returns with 65 starts on the third under belt, including 16 from 2016.

Sophomore infielder Shemiah Sanchez moved across the infield from starting at second base last season to become another option at third along with Jaquish. Sanchez started three of the Tigers’ five games at third in the Tiger Classic.

Left Field

Although she led the Tigers with 26 starts in left field in 2016, Thornhill faces competition for her spot in the form of freshman outfielder Aliyah Andrews.

Along with exchanging starts, Thornhill and Andrews spilt time in left field during three games of the Tigers’ five games.

No matter which Tiger earns the starting spot in each of these position battles, Torina and her staff have options that add another level of versatility looking forward.

Overcoming Adversity Early 

Despite struggling at times offensively, LSU showed grit to fight back from two deficits with clutch hitting in its wins against McNeese State and Oklahoma State.

“You saw us come back from deficits twice so I think that is going to be something you will see out of us,” Jaquish said after the Tigers’ 5-2 win against Oklahoma State. “Not the deficits, but you are going to see us fight a lot this year. ”

Trailing by one-run against McNeese in the sixth inning, pinch hitter Allie Walljasper doubled down the left field line to tie the game at 3.

One inning later, Sanchez sealed the Tigers’ 4-3 victory with a walk-off single with the bases loaded.

After falling to Oklahoma State on Friday night, 7-2, the Tigers rallied back from a two-run deficit with a three-run third inning to win their rematch against the Cowgirls on Sunday.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Springfield knotted the game with a two-RBI single to right center. Just one at-bat later, Doyle doubled down the right field line, giving the Tigers the lead on their way to a 5-2 win.

“It’s nice to see it all come together for (Springfield) during weekend one (of the season),” Torina said following LSU’s victory against Oklahoma State. “She’s so coachable, so clutch, there’s so many great things about her, you really can’t say enough.”