LSU to visit Florida in battle of softball unbeatens _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU softball coach Beth Torina and catcher Kellsi Kloss share a laugh at third base after Kloss tripled during a game against Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 27. The Tigers begin Southeastern Conference play with a three-game series against Arkansas.

The LSU softball team has yet to win a game this season.

At least that’s the mindset coach Beth Torina wants her team to take as it opens Southeastern Conference play this weekend.

The No. 5 Tigers are off to the best start in program history, thanks to their 22 consecutive wins — but with Arkansas coming to Tiger Park for a three-game series starting at 6 p.m. Friday, Torina says LSU has to put all of that in the past.

“Everybody is 0-0 starting this weekend,” Torina said. “Everybody in the SEC is in the same spot and we have to do it all over again.”

Torina said she doesn’t feel any pressure to maintain the streak; after all, it’s all but impossible to expect a team to go an entire season without dropping at least one game.

Here’s where the pressure comes from: All the potent SEC teams that help form what is arguably the best conference in the nation. Nine of the SEC’s 13 softball programs are currently ranked in the NFCA top 25 poll, and another two teams are receiving votes.

LSU, of course, is one of three teams to be in the top 5, including No. 1 Florida and No. 4 Alabama.

The Tigers will face at least six of those top-25 teams through the course of the season.

Fortunately for the Tigers, they’ll get to start conference play with last-place Arkansas (12-7) before traveling to Gainesville, Florida, next weekend.

The Razorbacks rank near the bottom of almost every statistical category in the conference, including a league-worst 3.40 ERA — more than a full run higher than the next closest team.

Torina said Arkansas will bring a strong offense this weekend, but the Razorbacks are third-to-last in the SEC with 100 runs scored and a .290 batting average. By comparison, the Tigers are third in the SEC with 176 runs and a .375 batting average.

But despite the drastic disparities on paper, Torina isn’t taking the series lightly.

“The SEC is the SEC,” Torina said. “I don’t think there’s a team in the SEC that anyone feels is not capable of beating you on any day.

“We’ve seen it year in and year out that anyone can beat anyone in this league.”

Torina reaffirmed her policy of not announcing pitching rotations prior to gametime, but she did say the Tigers would most likely continue with the four-player rotation she showed during the pre-conference schedule — albeit not necessarily the exact order.

One pitcher all but guaranteed to see significant time in SEC play is freshman Allie Walljasper, whose 0.51 ERA ranks second in the conference.

Walljasper hasn’t yet lost in her college career after keeping opponents to a .200 batting average this season, recording 43 strikeouts in the process, but Friday will be the first time she’s met another SEC program on the field.

“I like having the other three pitchers behind me,” Walljasper said. “It’s confidence boost knowing that if I mess up, I have the three other ones to have my back at all times.”