LSU softball coach Beth Torina has about as many good pitching options as a softball coach could hope for in the Baton Rouge regional this weekend.
In the 10th-seeded Tigers run-up to the NCAA tournament they played seven games against ranked teams in eight days, winning five times. Freshman Sydney Smith started three times and sophomores Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper started twice each.
When Hoover ran into trouble in the third inning of a rubber game of a three-game series against No. 11 Washington, Smith relieved and held the Huskies at bay long enough for LSU to rally and win in nine innings.
When Smith ran into trouble against No. 16 Texas A&M in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament three days later, Hoover relieved and kept the Aggies at bay long enough for LSU to rally and win in the bottom of the seventh to start a three-victory run to the tournament title game. Walljasper came out of the bullpen to get the final two outs after Auburn had touched Smith and Hoover for all its runs in a 7-1 win in the SEC tournament title game.
“In our game, it’s not so much about starting or relieving, it’s about going out and throwing quality pitches,” Torina said. “They’re all starters, they’re all relievers. They can do any of it. They’ve all been in those spots throughout the year.”
Hoover (18-7, 2.37) has started 21 of her 33 appearances, Walljasper has started 18 of her 23 appearances, and Smith has started 15 of her 20 appearances.
Hoover, who didn’t start in the regular season-ending series against Washington until the finale, pitched in all four games in the SEC tournament and was credited with all three Tigers wins, two in relief.
“I like relief,” Hoover said. “I’ve talked to (Torina) about it. It’s just a different mindset. You get to bring new energy, new vibes into the game. So I like to be a game-changer in that way if possible.”
Torina doesn’t reveal her starting pitcher ahead of time and has been known to make the final decision during pregame warm-ups, so it’s unclear who she will hand the ball to for the Tigers opening game against Long Island University Brooklyn at 6 p.m. Friday in Tiger Park.
Though Hoover, Walljasper and Smith have logged the lion’s share of innings, especially down the stretch, Torina is quick to point out that junior Baylee Corbello is also a viable option. Corbello (6-0, 2.26) didn’t pitch in the SEC tournament and hasn’t pitched since April 13.
But if Torina chooses to use Corbello during the regional, she’ll be calling on an NCAA tournament veteran who pitched 23.1 innings in the Tucson regional two years ago.
“We really don’t have any holes in our pitching staff right now, which is so nice,” catcher Kellsi Kloss said. “Anyone can relieve anyone and then Baylee keeps doing what she does. Everyone knows their role so well and just being genuinely happy for the other one to succeed, the chemistry of our pitching staff is so great right now.”
Smith started the first game of the Washington series, throwing a three-hit shutout, and started the first and last games in the SEC tournament. She wasn’t as effective in the tournament as she had been in the regular season, allowing seven runs (three earned) in 4.1 innings, but her ERA for the season is still a mere 0.80.
“Syd’s pitching really, really well,” Hoover said. “The better Allie pitches, the better Syd pitches, the better Baylee pitches, the more effective I am. We all go off of each other, so if one person is doing really well it’s usually making other people better because other teams don’t know who to prepare for when we have four people like we do. That’s really good to have in the postseason.”
In last year’s regional, Torina started midweek starter Kelsee Selman in the first game and Hoover (17.1 innings) and Walljasper (15.2) divided the innings in the next four games.
“I think we have one of the strongest pitching staffs in the country,” said Torina, who doubles as pitching coach. “We have everybody available. Everybody is quality. Everybody brings something different to us. They’ll all be ready, and they’ll all be used.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.