The motto for the 2014 LSU softball team is simple: Locked in.
With the Women’s College World Series the goal, the Tigers limped into the 2013 NCAA regional round on a three-game losing streak, including a 7-0 defeat to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
After LSU beat Central Connecticut State in the opening contest, Louisiana-Lafayette downed the Tigers in two of the next three games to eliminate them.
“We don’t ever want to feel like that ever again,” senior outfielder A.J. Andrews said Monday at the team’s media day. “We’re going to use that as a push and as motivation to not ever feel like that. Our mission is to make it to the World Series, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.”
It’s a new year and a new look for LSU.
Rachele Fico, a 2013 National Fastpitch Coaches Association first-team All-America pitcher, has moved from player to student coach. Two new catchers will battle to replace Lauren Houston.
Senior Ashley Czechner has the No. 1 spot in the rotation. The well-traveled Pawleys Island, S.C., native began her career at Maryland in 2011, then pitched at Chattanooga (Tenn.) State Community College the following season.
As a junior at LSU, she was 12-1 with a 2.94 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 98 innings.
“Ashley Czechner is just making leaps and bounds with her confidence,” senior infielder Allison Falcon said.
“She’s such a gamer. She’s really showing up a lot more at practice. That maturity level is just really impressive, and it’s really not fun to face her when we’re scrimmaging now.”
Two freshman pitchers, Kelsee Selman and Baylee Corbello, will get their fair share of work early, and it will be up to whoever is behind the plate to manage the young starters.
Sophomore catcher Kellsi Kloss said the newcomers are making her job easy.
“You’d think it would be a lot harder than it is, but they’re very hard-working girls,” she said. “They’re very mature. They don’t act like freshmen.”
Offensively, the majority of the lineup is returning, and infielder Bianka Bell will look to improve on her stellar freshman campaign.
In 56 games, she batted .347 with 12 home runs, 50 RBIs, a .423 on-base percentage and 11 stolen bases. Her home run total was the third-most in LSU history, and she garnered All-SEC freshman team and All-SEC second-team honors.
Bell said she wants to forget her accomplishments from a season ago and focus on improving her on-field mentality. She went to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the seventh inning of a 1-0 regional elimination game against UL-Lafayette. She said she had a “mental breakdown” before the at-bat, and she proceeded to pop out. Falcon then struck out to end LSU’s season.
“You’re going to see more power from us,” coach Beth Torina said. “I think you’ll see a lot of (freshman catcher) Sahvanna Jaquish in the lineup, who is somebody who can swing for power. Kellsi Kloss has improved her power, and then of course you add that to Bianka Bell, and you’re going to see good things.”
The Tigers open the season at 6 p.m. Thursday against visiting Texas. The key for LSU is to stick to its motto.
“We’re all just locked in on a plan,” said Andrews, the lone LSU player on the SEC all-preseason team. “We’re all focused on what we’re going to do, how we’re going to be and how we’re going to get there. It’s all kind of just being one mindset and one team. We’re all locked in on our mission. We have to stay together.”