With one regular-season Southeastern Conference series remaining, LSU softball coach Beth Torina doesn’t have to tell her eighth-ranked Tigers what’s at stake this weekend — and beyond.
After playing a three-game series at Georgia, which starts at 5 p.m. Friday, the Tigers will come home for a week of final exams while preparing for next weekend’s SEC tournament.
The best thing about the busy week, Torina said, is that she won’t have to remind her players about the task at hand — especially when it comes to the three-game series against Georgia in Athens.
“It’s a tough series for us because we play there, and it’s finals week, too,” Torina said. “So there are a lot of things on their plate this week. It’s going to be tough this weekend and for some things coming at them in the future.”
Still riding the excitement from a three-game sweep last weekend of reigning national champion Alabama in Tiger Park, LSU (40-11, 15-6 SEC) has clinched at least a share of the SEC West title and needs to take just one game against Georgia (35-18, 12-9) to win it outright.
“That series against Alabama was huge for this program,” said third baseman Tammy Wray. “Obviously, they’ve won the SEC West a lot in the past, but we’ve got some trophies up in our lounge, too. So it’s important for us to take back what we’ve won in previous years.”
Wray said the Tigers know they can’t relax in any way against Georgia. In addition to finishing the regular season strong, they’ve trying to nail down a host bid for an NCAA regional and possibly a super regional.
“We just have to stay focused and keep pushing,” Wray said. “Obviously, we’re coming to the end of the regular season, and we’ve got to keep playing the way we’ve been playing this season and have some confidence going into the postseason.”
Against Georgia, LSU will try to continue a trend in which the Tigers have won at least two of three games in six of seven SEC series this season.
On top of that, they’re trying to continue their climb up the rankings and RPI. This week, they moved up four spots in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll to eighth and rose to No. 4 in the RPI.
“Well, we’re definitely not going to let up for any reason,” Torina said. “We’ve put ourselves in a really good spot (for hosting a regional). We just have to keep rolling in the spot that we’re in and play hard and hope for the best.”
Torina said the Tigers will be challenged by the Bulldogs, but likes the way her team is playing.
“We’re playing well and we’re getting RBIs and production from the (Nos.) 1 through 9 hitters in the lineup, which is really nice,” she said. “We’re getting good solid performances out of our pitching, and our defense is coming together.
“We’ve shown that we can win in a lot of different way, and I think they’ll continue to do that.”
While LSU has one of the top pitching staffs in the SEC, led by All-American right-hander Rachele Fico, Georgia is among the league leaders in almost every offensive category.
Fico (24-9) is the reigning NFCA National Player of the Week.
The Bulldogs lead the SEC in hits (466), runs batted in (331), doubles (75), total bases (821) and are tied for first in runs (362). They rank second in batting average (.339) and home runs (84).
Torina also knows Athens is a tough place to play. But she’s still confident after the sweep of Alabama.
“If there’s one thing this team has shown besides being talented is they’re mentally tough, and they’ll fight to the end and won’t quit,” she said, “so I’ll put this team up against anybody in any situation.”
Junior outfielder Simone Heyward has picked up the Jesse Owens Athletic Award presented by the LSU Black Faculty and Staff Caucus and the Love Purple Live Gold Unsung Hero Award awarded by LSU Campus Life.
The Jesse Owens Athletic Award is given to a junior or senior student-athlete with the highest GPA with the most earned hours at LSU, and the Unsung Hero Award is presented to the student who has made significant differences in their respective organizations without holding executive positions.