Women's College World Series: LSU lose to Florida in opener 4-0; Next game Saturday 8:30 p.m. _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- The LSU softball players cheer in the dugout against Oklahoma, on March 21. The Tigers defeated Auburn 6-1 in their first game of the College World Series.

This week is spring break for LSU students, but there’s no break for the Tigers softball team.

In fact, this is one of the most challenging weeks of the season for LSU (36-3, 9-3 Southeastern Conference), which returned to the No. 1 spot in both polls Tuesday after a 4-0 record last week.

The Tigers play Mississippi State (29-10, 8-7), which is on the cusp of entering both polls, at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Starkville, Mississippi.

They then move on to Knoxville, Tennessee, to play the Volunteers, who are ranked 11th and 14th, in a weekend series beginning Friday.

“This is a really tough week,” coach Beth Torina said before LSU headed to Starkville on Tuesday. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. Tennessee is always a tough place to play. They’ve got a ton of fans. They have a really talented team with a ton of offense.

“It’s the same thing with Mississippi State. I think four games against top 25 (caliber) competition is a challenge whether you’re playing them at home or on the road or at a neutral site.”

LSU, which dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 after losing two of three at Kentucky two weekends ago, regained the top spot after beating Louisiana-Monroe in a midweek game last week and sweeping Ole Miss last weekend.

“When we got back (from Kentucky), coach told us this is a turning point,” pitcher Carley Hoover said. “This is when we either we get better or we get worse. It’s up to us to decide. Not a single person chose the negative route. Everyone brought more effort and confidence to the field.”

Tuesday’s game does not count as an SEC game. State visited LSU for a game last fall, and the Tigers are returning the trip.

“We’re always trying to play the best schedule possible,” Torina said. “We’re trying to challenge our kids every time we take the field and compete against the best. I’m excited to be able to go and play such great competition in the middle of the week and take our spring break on the road. It just kind of seemed to fit in there.

“These kids came here for a challenge so we’re going to challenge them whenever we have the opportunity.”

The Bulldogs, like the Tigers, are on a five-game win streak. They are coming off a weekend series sweep at Arkansas.

“This is a business trip for us,” center fielder A.J. Andrews said. “It would be nice to have a spring break and go chill on the beach, but I’d much rather be in (Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series) by the end of the season than be on the beach.

“It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing to make it to the World Series, so I think any bit of competition that we can challenge ourselves with on the way is only going to help us get better. Playing these teams is only going to place us on a higher level.”

Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.