Perfection can be a treacherous exercise for Baylee Corbello. Or, more accurately, pursuing it can put the LSU softball team’s freshman ace in peril.
“You don’t want to give up a hit, like, ever,” she said.
Bent on silencing opposing bats, the right-hander occasionally winds up putting herself in a bind, aiming rather than dealing and then watching hitters trot up the baseline with a walk.
Having allowed 86 free passes this season, Corbello leads all pitchers in the Southeastern Conference, and the Tigers’ 166 walks are the most in a conference where helping the opposition can leave a deep mark.
Curbing that habit would be beneficial for LSU (22-17, 4-8) this weekend with No. 13 Georgia (34-6, 8-4) arriving to open a three-game series at 6 p.m. Friday at Tiger Park.
“She’s got to trust that her stuff is good enough to keep them off balance, which it is,” coach Beth Torina said. “She has a lot of things that match up well against them.”
And what can the Bulldogs do if Corbello (11-6, 2.48 ERA) gives them the chance?
“They crush,” Torina said.
Blunt, but certainly correct.
Georgia is tied for the SEC lead in home runs with 56, led by third baseman Alex Hugo’s 16, to go with 62 doubles and a .570 slugging percentage. All of that has come in just 983 at-bats — the fewest in the conference.
Issuing walks would only amplify the threat.
As a staff, LSU’s combined ERA is 2.80 (10th in the SEC), and it allows opponents to hit just .216 (eighth). The Tigers haven’t been prone to giving up the long ball, with just 21 homers allowed.
But aside from Arkansas, no other SEC team allows more baserunners via hit or walk than LSU’s 10.2 per game, which can act as a multiplier of sorts if Georgia is dialed in at the plate.
So it falls to Corbello, a two-time state Gatorade Player of the Year out of Sam Houston High, to check the impulse, which has less to do with mechanics or her array of pitches.
“We’ve watched film a lot recently, and it’s not like a form break or anything,” she said. “It’s more an approach mentally when I’m throwing.”
Boiled down, it’s a trust issue.
Corbello needs to show faith in the defense behind her to make plays if hitters make contact. The Tigers’ defense is average — their .969 fielding percentage and 32 errors put them squarely in the middle of the pack — while their pitchers generate roughly the same number of fly balls and ground outs.
Yet Corbello feels the onus, or perhaps self-imposed burden, to shut down lineups on her own.
“It’s not physical reasons why it happens to her,” Torina said. “It’s tough to go in there day in and day out as a freshman with the confidence. That’s hands down the toughest thing to be when you’re young and playing this grueling schedule.”
Corbello is about as far away from high-strung as one can imagine. Her voice rarely changes volume or pitch. She speaks matter-of-factly, and introspection only produces the following analysis: “It’s not like I’m scared to pitch to them. It’s just trying to do too much.”
Typically, the bulk of her walks come in one-inning flurries — such as the three she issued to Tennessee last Saturday in the fifth — and then dissipate.
“I feel that’s normal sometimes,” said Corbello, whose 124 strikeouts rank fourth in the conference.
In her past five appearances, Corbello’s only averaging 2.6 walks allowed, and she hasn’t walked more than five in a game since she had seven March 28 in a 9-1 loss at Alabama.
Tweaks in bullpen sessions over recent weeks have helped, and they revealed the path to pristine isn’t confounding.
“Trusting your preparation,” Corbello said. “Trusting your stuff.”