The LSU softball team’s annual opponents have seen enough of Tigers center fielder A.J. Andrews.
She has been a fixture in the center of the Tigers outfield and at the top of their lineup during her four-year career.
Andrews has started all but five of the 229 games in which she has played, starting every game LSU has played the past three seasons.
“She’s a very special player,” coach Beth Torina said. “She has been a mainstay in that spot in our lineup to the point that other teams ask me, ‘Hasn’t that kid graduated yet?’
“They’re ready for her to be gone because she’s that spectacular and she does so many things so well.”
And she’s not done yet. As always, Andrews will bat leadoff and play center field when the top-seeded Tigers play fourth-seeded Texas Southern in the opening round of the NCAA Baton Rouge regional at 6 p.m. Friday at Tiger Park.
Then comes a game against second-seeded Arizona or third-seeded Nebraska, and perhaps another game or two this weekend.
A super regional opponent could be headed to Tiger Park next week and LSU could be headed back to Oklahoma City for the first time since Andrews and fellow seniors Dylan Supak and Kailey McCasland went as freshmen.
Andrews said she was flattered by opponents’ eagerness to see her start her professional career with the Chicago Bandits of National Pro Fastpitch.
“I’m just pushing forward to try and be the best, and pushing my team to try and be the best,” Andrews said. “I think it’s really cool that teams recognize that.
“I think everybody on our team is like that and they’re going to be saying that about a lot of players on our team in the years to come.”
Andrews is a quintessential center fielder/leadoff hitter, combining speed, defense and an ability to reach base in a variety of ways. She is third in career stolen bases, fourth in walks, tied for third in triples and sixth in runs.
This season she leads the team in stolen bases, walks, triples and hit by pitches. She’s second in runs, third in on-base percentage, tied for third in hits and fourth in batting average.
But the statistics don’t tell the whole story.
“I think the biggest thing about A.J. is when the lights are off what she brings to this program with her work ethic and her leadership and her motivational skills,” Torina said.
Teammates say the Andrews’ penchant for sharing motivational videos and quotes with them are uplifting.
One example they often cite came during LSU’s last Southeastern Conference road trip. The Tigers had lost the first two games at Missouri by a combined score of 17-4, getting run-ruled in the second game.
Andrews called an impromptu players-only meeting designed to remind everyone that two losses didn’t change how good this team was. It had set a school record with a 25-0 start and had been ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history, spending a total of six weeks in the top spot.
“We didn’t really have things together and she called us together for a meeting and she led it,” said Bailey Landry, who follows Andrews in the batting order and flanks her defensively from right field. “I thought it was awesome for her to do that to get us all on the same page again and know we’re working together as a team.
“Her type of leadership and her way of influencing others is unreal. I’ve never been around somebody like that. It’s great to have somebody like that batting in front of you and alongside you in the outfield.”
LSU went out the next night and run-ruled a team that is seeded 10th in the NCAA tournament.
“I was just letting them know that we are capable of everything that we possibly want to achieve,” Andrews said. “Softball is such a sport of failure that lots of times I think it gets to people and it can be discouraging even to people who are doing so well.”
The Tigers lost three of their next five games after the Missouri series, but they enter the regional seeded No. 5 nationally.
“When you have such success early in the season and you face some hardship I think it’s really hard to get yourself out of that rut,” Andrews said. “I was just trying to encourage everyone to continue on and keep striving and we will get to where we want to be.”
Where they want to get, of course, is Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series in two weeks.
“That would be awesome,” Andrews said. “To end my career where it I started it would be the coolest thing ever.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.