The weather at Tiger Park on Tuesday was chilling.
The home team couldn’t be hotter.
The LSU softball team returned from the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in posh Palm Springs, California, over the weekend with another sack full of victories, five of them, pushing their record to16-0. It’s the best start in school history.
LSU’s ranking has vaulted from No. 19 to start the season three weeks ago to No. 7 in both major national polls. The Tigers have a No. 1 vote in each. Heady stuff for LSU’s players and coaches, who Tuesday attracted the kind of media horde you usually have to go to Alex Box Stadium to find this time of year.
So excuse the softball Tigers if they have to suspend reality a bit to keep their heads on straight. The quickest way to get beat is to start thinking your unbeatable, and on a raw, windswept practice day with the gray sky spitting a few drops of rain, maybe it isn’t that hard to be humble.
“At practice every day coach tells us we’re 0-16,” said LSU catcher Sahvannah Jaquish, the reigning Southeastern Conference player of the week. “When we get out on the field (for a game) she’ll remind us we’re 16-0. Buying into that has really helped us as a team. We come out for practice like we’re the worst team in the land, then we go out for games like we’re the best team in the world.”
Maybe not the best in the world, but right now there are few softball teams on the planet are playing better.
The five wins in Palm Springs included a 4-3 victory over then-No. 13 Arizona. It was an early yet watershed moment for the Tigers, who were eliminated from last season’s NCAA tournament by the Wildcats.
“I think the Arizona game was a moral victory for our teams for a lot of reasons,” fourth-year coach Beth Torina said. “We needed that to follow up on the end of last season. The fact they ended our season last year, this was a game this team had marked on the schedule from day one.
“It was a tough test and we passed — on to the next.”
LSU’s next is this weekend’s Purple & Gold Challenge at Tiger Park. The Tigers will host Stephen F. Austin, Ball State, Florida Atlantic and Northwestern State, starting with SFA at 5 p.m. Friday.
The Tigers have another game against Northwestern State on Tuesday before hosting Arkansas for a three-game set next weekend to open conference play.
The Razorbacks are 7-7 so far and not one of the toughest tests in the SEC. Any game in softball invites an opportunity to get beat — LSU needed four runs in the bottom of the seventh to rally past Louisiana Tech 7-5 on Feb. 17. But the Tigers also have a distinct chance to be 25-0 when they travel to face No. 1 Florida for three games starting March 13.
In sports, a streak can become a burden; even a positive one. But Torina is determined not to let that happen to her squad.
“There’s zero pressure for me with the streak,” Torina said. “You’re not going to have an undefeated season. We’re going to try to keep the streak going as long as we can. I’m just happy we have 16 wins right now.”
There was a time in softball when all you needed to win was a couple of ace pitchers, slap out a couple of hits and try to win by a soccer score: 2-1 or 1-0. That often isn’t the case in softball anymore. Offense has become more vital.
Jaquish and shortstop Bianka Bell are LSU’s big sticks with six home runs each, Bell also leading the Tigers with a .490 average. LSU can also win with slap hits and speed with players like center fielder A.J. Andrews.
Then there’s the pitching. LSU has a quartet of strong arms with Allie Walljasper (6-0, 0.59 ERA), Kelsee Selman (3-0, 0.84), Baylee Corbello (4-0, 1.27) and Carley Hoover (3-0, 1.50).
“I thought I sucked for a while,” Jaquish said of going against LSU pitching in practice. “Carley Hoover throws 70 (mph) plus and Allie Walljasper makes me look like an idiot when she throws her backdoor curve. But it’s really been a blessing to have them because as a hitter they really shine the light on your weaknesses.”
Softball will find your weaknesses eventually. The season is too long not to trip up somewhere.
But Torina is confident her team is built for success over the long haul.
“We have not seen our best game yet,” she said. “We slapped it well for a couple of games (last weekend) and hit for power a couple of games and pitched well for a couple of games and we defended well. I don’t know if we put it all together at the same time.
“We’re showing we have a lot of depth and dimensions, which is nice.”
Nice is probably not the word LSU’s opponents would choose.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.