LSU softball faces tough weekend at Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU head coach Beth Torina, right, speaks with LSU starting pitcher Carley Hoover (21) during LSU's opening night against Ohio State, Friday, February 12, 2016, at LSU's Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, La.

Carley Hoover is happy it’s out of the way.

She’s not thrilled it happened, of course. Neither Hoover nor her LSU softball teammates expected to lose during opening weekend, especially not after the team started last year with 25 straight wins.

But it happened — a 2-1 loss to Pacific last Saturday night — the lone blemish among four run-rule victories in the Tiger Classic. LSU, in fact, exacted revenge on Pacific a day later with a 10-1 win, prompting Hoover to find a silver lining in the early-season letdown.

“I’d rather it happen now than later in the season so we learn how to recover,” the sophomore pitcher said. “I think our response the next day was exactly what we needed to do, so now we know how to come back from that.”

No. 4 LSU will have another chance to rebound this weekend, albeit against heightened competition. The Tigers (4-1) will begin their five-game slate at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic with games against No. 9 Arizona at 5:30 p.m. and Bethune-Cookman at 10 p.m. Friday in Palm Springs, California.

Saturday holds a doubleheader against UC-Santa Barbara and No. 15 Central Florida beginning at 5 p.m. before LSU clashes with No. 8 UCLA at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Coach Beth Torina expects the trip to be yet another learning experience.

“We’ll know a lot more about ourselves when we get back from being out there this weekend,” she said. “... Five good teams, not just three. But the three that are ranked have different looks.”

Up first is Arizona (6-0), which the Tigers defeated in a 4-3 thriller during last season’s tournament. The Wildcats started this season by smashing 14 home runs en route to five mercy-rule wins last weekend.

They’ll likely face Hoover (2-0), who has struck out 19 and surrendered only one unearned run on six hits across 11 innings.

“I still have some things coming together. I definitely don’t think I’m ready to pitch in the World Series tomorrow, but I don’t have to be,” Hoover said. “So I’m just kind of progressing, trusting the process and the plan coach puts me on.”

After Bethune-Cookman (3-2) and UCSB (2-3), LSU will test its mettle against two more ranked opponents.

UCF (4-2), which lost tight contests with No. 3 Auburn and No. 19 James Madison last week, has produced only 23 runs. But its pitching picked up the slack — senior Shelby Turnier has gone the distance in three of her four starts, and junior Manami Calixto boasts a 0.50 ERA through 14 innings.

Torina called UCLA (4-1) the most “well-rounded team” of the tournament. The Bruins won a pair of 6-5 squeakers sandwiched around a loss at No. 25 Texas A&M.

“We’re really excited, especially after coming off the loss against Pacific,” senior shortstop Bianka Bell said. “Getting ready for these tough opponents we’ve got this weekend is going to be a good test for us to see where we’re at.”

The Tigers have a few weapons of their own.

LSU’s dominant pitching staff started the year on a high note, allowing only two earned runs and extra-base hits last weekend. The team batted .385 and had only six strikeouts while three different players blasted home runs.

One of them was junior third baseman/catcher Sahvanna Jaquish, who earned Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors after hitting .692 and driving in nine runs on nine hits.

“I’m seeing the ball well. Just really relaxed and trusting in my team,” Jaquish said. “I know we have a lot of talent, so I know that if I don’t get it done, someone else in the lineup will.”

She’s right about that. Twelve players had at least one RBI during opening weekend, further clouding Torina’s task of establishing a consistent lineup. The coach said she’ll continue tinkering with her personnel because the position battles “deserve more time” to play out.

After all, the Tigers’ goal for this weekend is to learn more about themselves.

“We’re really going to see what we’re made of this weekend,” Hoover said. “We’ll see how we can bounce back from this past weekend.”