Tigers return several high-ceiling performers
Not only were the Tigers clicking from the circle in the shortened 2020 season, they were having success at the plate as well. When the season closed LSU ranked near the top of the conference in runs, hitting, slugging and on base percentage.
What stands out about last years team was the balance. Not only in terms of skill but also experience. The 2020 squad had multiple contributors of each experience level making a significant impact on the daily lineup.
Barring another global pandemic, 2021 is likely to be the final year for Aliyah Andrews leading the Tiger lineup. She continued to be a leadoff force, getting on base and causing havoc on the base paths. The big story to watch this year will be her pursuit of the all-time LSU stolen base record.
Behind Andrews the Tigers have two budding superstars in shortstop Taylor Pleasants and Georgia Clark at first base. As a freshman last season, Pleasants quickly showed why she was one of the top players coming out of high school, hitting four home runs while driving in 21 with a 1.197 OPS. The sophomore Clark matched Pleasants’ home run totals and 19 RBI total while hitting .429 with a .732 slugging percentage.
LSU will also look for power out of its veterans. Specifically, Amanda Doyle and Shelbi Sunseri. Doyle will be back at third after logging a .268 average, .810 OPS and 14 RBI. If she isn’t in the lineup as the pitcher, Sunseri will likely figure to be LSU’s designated player. She finished the year hitting .328 with a homer and 18 RBIs.
Two more names to keep an eye on in the spring are a pair of sophomores in catcher Morgan Cummins and second baseman Taylor Tidwell. Tidwell got off to a blazing start hitting three home runs and driving in 14 over an OPS of 1.246 but dislocated her shoulder and was done for the season after just 17 games. Cummins finished the season tying Pleasants in both home runs and RBIs with four and 21, respectively and hitting .400 on the season.
With those seven (maybe six depending on the health of Tidwell) the spots that are likely the most up for grab are the corner outfield spots. The returners are Ciara Briggs and Savannah Stewart. Neither brings much in terms of power. Briggs did a good job getting on base with a .464 on base percentage and flashed some speed with nine steals. Stewart hit .250 and drove in five.
The returning players who most likely will compete for outfield playing time would likely be Taryn Antoine and Akiya Thymes. If Tidwell is unavailable to play at second, Anna Jones was handling most of the second base responsibilities to close out the year.
Even with a dearth of players with experience from last year and the years before, Beth Torina has some interesting decisions to make. Perhaps one of the biggest involves Raeleen Gutierez. The freshman mainly served as a backup but went 8-for-15 slugging .533. Positionally though Gutierez mostly played first, which is a position where the Tigers are stacked with Clark, Doyle, and potentially Sunseri.
Of the newcomers, the two most highly regarded are infielder Presleigh Pilon and catcher Hayden Brown who were listed as the 7th and 14th best players, respectively, according to Extra Innings Softball. Outfielder Ali Newland, the 20th best player, could also be in the mix as well. The other recruit of note would be infielder Kennedi Houshmandzadeh, sister of current sophomore outfielder Karrington Houshmandzadeh, and daughter of former NFL receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh.
Beth Torina has never been shy about using the early part of the season to experiment with different lineups. Her work will be cut out for her this season, not only due to the sheer number of players but the threat of COVID cancelations means the testing period might be shorter than usual. Still, the Tigers will have a core lineup that will set them up nicely for a championship run.