The atmosphere around Tiger Park had a different feel this week.
With storm clouds looming over Baton Rouge, the No. 3 LSU softball team went through its typical practice routines inside its home facility, focusing on the task ahead.
It’s Florida week — and everyone is well-aware.
“Florida, ever since last year, has been a series that we know is going to be good,” said LSU senior center fielder A.J. Andrews. “We know that playing Florida, we’re going to get good competition. And I think that’s something I’m really excited and prepared for. That’s what the game is all about.”
The 2015 matchup on the diamond between Florida and LSU has been hyped for good reason. Both squads enter the contest in pursuit of perfection: the No. 1-ranked Gators are 27-0, and the Tigers are 25-0. That, and the fact that Florida is coming off its best season in program history after it downed Alabama in the 2014 Women’s College World Series finale to earn the Gators’ first-ever national title.
But despite all the accolades that occurred in the past year for Florida, the Tigers aren’t focusing on the results of last season.
They’re looking toward Friday evening.
“Their team has changed, and so has ours,” said sophomore third baseman Sahvanna Jaquish. “I think that’s what is important.”
The squad left for Gainesville, Florida, on Thursday evening. For the young core of the Tigers’ squad, playing at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium will be an entirely new experience.
Sophomores Jaquish, Bailey Landry, Baylee Corbello, Constance Quinn and Kelsee Selman have seen Florida only once before, when the Gators made the trip to Baton Rouge last season.
They’re embracing the opportunity to take their undefeated streak into unfamiliar territory.
“It’s going to be great, and I can’t wait to go over there,” Jaquish said. “It’s going to be my first time on the road to Florida, so that’s going to be so exciting.”
That being said, there’s one member of the squad who won’t find Gainesville to be too foreign.
LSU coach Beth Torina knows the city all-too well.
She is a Florida alumni who played for the Gators’ softball team from 1997-2000, collecting 60 career wins as a pitcher for the program, which ties for fifth on the Gators’ all-time list.
“I really enjoy going back to Gainesville,” Torina said. “It has a special place in my heart. I enjoy seeing the fans and being in a city where you know where to turn and where to go and where to eat. It’s a comfortable trip for me.”
And she’ll have her squad ready to play.
Torina said she doesn’t plan to announce a pitching rotation, though she intends to use her staff depending on certain matchups with the Gators’ offense. She also noted that the Tigers could use multiple pitchers in a contest, depending on the situation.
For the Tigers’ young rotation, playing against Florida will be crucial to preparing them for the road ahead.
“I don’t know that we’re battle-tested enough,” Torina said. “We haven’t been in a ton of close ball games, and I think that’s something that lends itself to Florida.”
Battle-tested or not, the Tigers still have plenty of confidence going to play the reigning national champions.
Regardless of how highly-touted the Gators may be, LSU is still looking to remain perfect when it gets on the flight back to Baton Rouge.
“We want to sweep them,” Jaquish said. “We want to sweep everybody. But we’re going to take it one game at a time. We’re going to come out on Friday and treat it like a national championship game, do or die.”