The key to LSU freshman pitchers Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper getting back on track in the NCAA Baton Rouge regional may be to throw fewer strikes.
That’s right. Fewer.
Both pitchers have been outstanding this season, but they had subpar performances their last time out in a 7-5 loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference tournament last Thursday.
Hoover (14-4, 1.85 earned run average), an All-SEC pitcher, gave up six hits, including two home runs, in 4.2 innings. Walljasper (13-5, 1.76) gave up five hits and four runs in 2.1 innings.
The Lady Vols did most of their damage by swinging at the first pitch. Hoover held them scoreless through three innings and got the first two batters in the fourth to ground out to third on first-pitch swings.
Then came a first-pitch home run, a single after a foul ball on a first-pitch swing, then a two-run homer on the first pitch.
“Three batters in a row I really didn’t make any adjustments, and it got on me kind of quick,” Hoover said after practice Tuesday.
Walljasper relieved Hoover with two outs in the fifth and got the final out in two pitches — but she gave up a two-run double and an RBI double in the sixth and a home run in the seventh. Two of the three run-producing hits came after the batter swung at the first pitch.
“They did a good job of throwing strikes, which is something we’ve preached to them all year long,” Tigers coach Beth Torina said. “They’re still freshmen. They still have the mentality of, ‘We’ve got to work ahead; we’ve got to throw a first-pitch strike.’
“Then you have somebody who comes and attacks the first pitch and that’s the opposite of everything you’ve been teaching them, so it’s a great lesson learned. Now they just have to have a strategy for when to throw strikes and when to throw balls.”
It’s unclear who will be in the circle when top-seeded LSU faces fourth-seeded Texas Southern at 6 p.m. Friday at Tiger Park, but the two freshmen have been the Tigers’ primary pitchers down the stretch. Between them, they have faced every batter in the last six games.
Walljasper said she watched her last outing with Torina and “learned a lot.”
“I need to throw more quality pitches,” Walljasper said. “I think I was thinking too much. I need to come in these next games thinking about what I need to get done, but not excessively.
“She even said she wanted me to start throwing more balls and make the hitters a little more off balance.”
Hoover said her attitude since Thursday has been the same as it was after her other three losses: “I’m not going to be beaten the same way again.
“If I can keep doing that,” Hoover said, “there are going to be fewer and fewer ways to beat me as the year goes on and as my career goes on.”
Shortstop Bianka Bell said Hoover stayed involved in the game after her shortest outing in her last 14 starts.
“Coming into the dugout, you could tell that she was bummed about it, but she still stayed up in the game for us,” Bell said. “She cheered and she was still positive and she was cheering on our hitters, and she was cheering on Allie to do a better job than she did.
“You can tell that she’s working her butt off in the bullpen every single day, getting ready to give her best this weekend.”
Also ready will be sophomores Baylee Corbello, who hasn’t pitched in the past seven games, and Kelsee Selman, who hasn’t pitched in the past six.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised whatsoever if you saw all four pitchers at some point in this regional,” Torina said.
Corbello said they both faced live pitching in practice Tuesday to stay sharp.
“I think that helped us a lot,” she said, “getting our pitch counts up and just seeing batters.”
Corbello, who made 29 starts and threw 199.1 innings last season, hasn’t started in the past 12 games, and her 65.1 innings are more than just Selman’s 50.2.
“I’m just going to do my role, and if my role is in relief or just to come in and pitch to a certain batter, I’m going to do that to my full ability,” Corbello said. “I really used this time just to work on drills and specific stuff that I needed to work on to make myself sharper for games whenever I do need to go in.”