Amber Serrett was just getting used to left field.
From that vantage point, the ball looks different off the bat — not quite what the freshman was used to seeing at her natural position of shortstop. Naturally, Serrett is more comfortable in the infield, but she insists her transition to the outfield eased with each ball hit her way.
Her lease on the left-field grass, however, appears to be a one-year deal — a temporary spot for the rising star until incumbent shortstop Bianka Bell plays out the final days of her senior season. Take it from LSU softball coach Beth Torina, who time and again has referred to Serrett as the team’s “shortstop of the future.”
But the future arrived early.
Serrett has earned a share of playing time at shortstop just a month into the season, most recently bumping Bell over to third base in four of the Tigers’ last six games. That’s the left-infield alignment when junior third baseman Sahvanna Jaquish fills in at catcher, said Torina, who has often used two different lineups since she took over the program in 2012.
“It’s not that the others weren’t performing, but Amber Serrett was,” the coach said Wednesday. “It gives us a spot for Amber Serrett to do some things. It’s more about how well Amber did than the other players at the position.”
That’s not to say Serrett — also the team’s third-leading hitter — has unseated Bell, a first-team All-American in 2015. But the freshman has done enough to warrant reps in place of a player who started all but 10 games at shortstop over the last three seasons.
Serrett’s recent stay at shortstop was a primer for Southeastern Conference competition, which No. 4 LSU begins with a series against No. 6 Alabama starting at 6 p.m. Friday in Tiger Park.
“We thought that we needed to get her some more reps so she would be ready on Saturdays in SEC play,” assistant coach Lindsay Leftwich said. “We can’t just throw her out to the dogs when she hasn’t played shortstop all year. The past couple of games have been a good opportunity to get her there more often and for her to feel comfortable in that spot.”
When the season began, Serrett acted as a viable answer to the team’s lone question mark.
She was a leading contender to replace AJ Andrews in the outfield, the only vacated position from last year’s squad that finished third at the Women’s College World Series. The Spring, Texas, native manned left field on opening night, one of her eight starts in unfamiliar territory.
Harboring high hopes for Serrett, LSU’s coaching staff was confident she could thrive even when playing out of position. She acknowledged the move forced her to make some adjustments, but she still sports a spotless fielding percentage in left field.
“It’s a different look, just seeing the ball off the bat differently,” Serrett said last Thursday. “With every ball that gets hit to me, I get better. I see another ball and another way that I could play it.”
That was before last weekend’s LSU Invitational.
She started three of the final four games at shortstop, committing only one error on a rough chopper that eluded her grasp. Serrett did a number at the plate as well, going 10-for-14 with seven RBIs en route to a share of LSWA Hitter of the Week recognition.
“I think she understands what she does well,” hitting coach Howard Dobson said. “She’s hitting the ball the other way and taking what the defense gives her. She’s able to bunt-hit when she has needed to. She has done a really good job driving the ball to the right side behind people. Then when they do give her inside (pitches), she’s not afraid to hit it to left-center.”
Serrett is hitting .469, the 10th-best batting average in the SEC, and trails only power hitters Jaquish, Bell and senior catcher Kellsi Kloss for the team lead in RBIs (15).
“As far as a freshman putting those kind of numbers up, it’s not unheard of,” Dobson said. “But it doesn’t happen very often.”
Serrett said she doesn’t keep track of her statistics, but her coaches do. They’ve monitored every at-bat since fall scrimmages, and Leftwich said the freshman’s preseason performance gave them the confidence to thrust her into crucial situations.
Bell took notice, too, pegging her protégé as one of LSU’s early standouts. The senior also provides pointers, Serrett said, that help her operate at the quickened pace of the college game.
Though she’s more at home patrolling the dirt between second and third base, Serrett said she’s just fine playing in left field if Torina needs her there. With great expectations — and a string of performances worthy of the hype — bearing down on her, the freshman remembers one simple fact to stay grounded.
“It’s the same game I’ve been playing my whole life,” Serrett said. “It’s just a bigger level, a bigger scene.”