With SEC-opening series against Alabama on the horizon, the LSU softball team tries to focus on the now _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- LSU left-fielder Emily Griggs (8) begins to celebrate after she caught a fly ball for the final out in LSU's 10-5 victory over Arizona to win the NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional propelling LSU to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City Thursday.

After nearly a month of weekend tournaments, only seven games and five opponents separate the LSU softball team from its Southeastern Conference opener against No. 4 Alabama on March 11.

So excuse the Tigers if they’re looking forward to their series against the Crimson Tide just a little bit.

“It’s a little hard (not to look ahead) in the sense that we’re so excited to play them,” senior catcher Kellsi Kloss said. “But coach (Beth Torina) is making sure that the most important game is the next one. We can’t look ahead to Alabama when we haven’t played the four really good teams that we’re playing this weekend.”

Despite the allure of SEC play, No. 5 LSU will try to focus on its competition at this weekend’s LSU Invitational, starting with a doubleheader against Memphis and Tennessee Tech beginning at 5 p.m. Friday in Tiger Park.

In the final weekend tuneup before Alabama comes to town, Torina hopes to see her team curtail its string of infield errors.

“There’s definitely some things we need to get cleaned up heading into SEC play,” Torina said. “I think on the defensive side, we need to get our confidence back a little bit more there. We need to play better defense.”

The only opponent in this weekend’s field without a losing record is Louisiana Tech (12-3). The Tigers (14-2) will face Louisiana Tech after taking on Liberty at 5 p.m. Saturday. They’ll wrap up the tournament with a rematch against Tennessee Tech (3-10) at noon Sunday.

But up first is Memphis (6-10), LSU’s season-opening opponent last season. Bianka Bell was a triple away from hitting for the cycle in that game as LSU used a sixth-inning rally to win 7-2.

“We played Memphis last year, so we know their lineup and pitching,” Bell said. “We’ve been watching film of them, and we know where they’re going to be throwing at us.”

Whereas Memphis has won five of its last six contests, Tennessee Tech is on an eight-game losing streak. The Golden Eagles have struggled at the plate, producing less than four runs per game behind their .210 team batting average.

They’ll be tested by LSU’s four pitchers, none of whom sport an ERA of more than 2.00.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of growth from the pitching staff as far as confidence and putting things in better locations,” Torina said. “They’ve come up with some big pitches at some big times.”

The Tigers will face Liberty (6-9) for the first time in program history before clashing with Louisiana Tech in the first of two meetings this season. LSU will head to Ruston for a midweek game March 15.

The Lady Techsters have displayed their power in the early going, belting 21 doubles and 13 home runs. With a team ERA of 1.94, their pitching staff also poses a challenge for the Tigers’ explosive lineup.

It’s a lineup Torina has continuously shuffled, most drastically in LSU’s 8-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe on Tuesday. Though three of the team’s top four hitters weren’t in the lineup, the Tigers managed to secure a run-rule victory as a trio of reserves combined to drive in six runs.

As of Thursday, Torina said she hadn’t given much thought to the lineups for this weekend. The coach, however, labeled six or seven spots as being “pretty secure.”

Before the season, Torina said she hoped to settle on a consistent lineup by the time SEC play started, and now that’s only a week away. The Tigers will try to avoid looking ahead to their series against Alabama, but they’ll certainly be preparing for it this weekend.

“Looking forward to something is fine, but we have to make sure that we’re still focusing on who’s next,” sophomore outfielder Emily Griggs said. “Each opponent is just as important as the next one.”