Torina pleased as LSU softball team set to play Challenge

Six games into her second season as LSU softball coach, Beth Torina likes what she’s seen from her team, which has used a combination of aggressive youth and veteran prowess to post an impressive record.

No. 10 LSU (5-1) is getting it done both at the plate and in the circle this season, and Torina is optimistic that stretch will continue this weekend when LSU hosts four teams for the Purple and Gold Challenge at Tiger Park.

“We have a balanced and versatile offense, our defense is solid and we have quality pitching,” Torina said. “I’m very hopeful for what they’re going to do this season.”

LSU will play back-to-back games Friday, starting with North Dakota State at 4:30 p.m., and will finish the five-game homestand at 3 p.m. Sunday against Nicholls State. The Tigers will also play Virginia and Memphis this weekend.

The Tigers hit four home runs in a 9-1 win against Ole Miss on Wednesday night. The game didn’t count towards the Southeastern Conference win-loss record but boosted LSU’s confidence while its nonconference schedule plays out.

“It was nice to come out and set the tone for our conference,” said junior catcher Lauren Houston, who connected on one of the LSU home runs in the game. “We wanted to come out and show everyone that we’re here to compete this year.”

The bats of three sweet-swinging freshmen have helped deliver that message.

Infielder Bianka Bell has been a regular contributor near the top of the Tigers’ order, and first baseman Sandra Simmons and catcher Kellsi Kloss hit homers against Ole Miss.

“They’re very talented; I thought that since the minute they got on campus,” Torina said. “I’ve said all along they’re very aggressive and fearless at the plate and they make the entire offense more aggressive.”

That’s not to say the rest of the lineup hasn’t been pulling its weight. Juniors Allison Falcon and Tammy Wray and sophomore leadoff hitter A.J. Andrews have shined at points early in the season.

The impact has been tangible — after scoring eight or more runs just eight times in 65 games last season, this season’s squad has already done it three times.

One big inning has paved the way for the Tigers’ scoring explosion in those games; LSU used a five-run first inning against both North Carolina and Hampton last weekend and scored six runs in the sixth inning against Ole Miss on Wednesday.

The offensive output has lessened the tension for LSU’s 1-2 pitching punch in senior Rachele Fico and junior Meghan Patterson. But Torina’s not sure they need it.

“There’s no pressure to score runs,” Torina said. “(Fico is) capable of holding teams for as long as we need her to. Meghan Patterson can do the same thing.”

“But the fact that we’re able to create some distance for her and give her some room to breathe, I can only imagine what (Fico) is going to be capable of this year.”

Fico will more than likely strike out the 600th batter of her career this weekend. After striking out 11 batters against Ole Miss, she enters play five strikeouts away from the milestone.

“She’s the most phenomenal pitcher I’ve ever had the pleasure of catching for,” Houston said. “She’s a serious competitor that will do anything to win. With that kind of competitiveness on the mound for you, it puts your hitters at ease.”