Opening day is a sigh of relief for sophomore pitcher Shelbi Sunseri.
After going through a year of the tough Southeastern Conference schedule, Sunseri no longer looks like a wide-eyed freshman.
“I know what to expect,” Sunseri said. “I know that there’s going to be those nerves there, like always, but I think I learned how to control those nerves and turn those nerves into excitement and positively that feeds into my team.”
Those nerves are slightly different for Missouri graduate transfer Amanda Sanchez. Though she was a three-year starter for Missouri, coming into Tiger Park has a different meaning for her.
“For me it's just another year, but it means way more since it is my last,” said Sanchez, whose team opens the season at 6 p.m. Thursday against Tulsa in the Tiger Classic. “This year is very special to me and I want to leave everything out on the field with no regrets and get far in the postseason.”
The Women’s College World Series has become an expectation in the LSU softball program, but the Tigers fell short of a trip to Oklahoma City in 2018.
In response, the Tigers' theme for this season is “fight all the way,” taken from the LSU fight song. LSU coach Beth Torina said it's just something she and her coaching staff wanted from their team.
“A little more grittiness, a little more willing to do whatever it takes. That’s the atmosphere we wanted to create,” Torina said.
Torina is gearing up for her eighth year at Tiger Park, but for her there’s a sense of unknown every season. Though all eyes will go to what LSU lost in the circle, the Tigers returns all but one of their position players and 36 of 41 of their home run production at the plate.
The amount of depth in the field is the best problem for a coaching staff to have, Torina said.
With the addition of Sanchez, LSU’s depth on the field and at the plate got even deeper. The beauty of a round-robin tournament like the Tiger Classic this weekend is that Torina is able to switch things around and see what works best.
Of all the unknowns, one thing Torina knows for sure is that junior Aliyah Andrews will be in center field, a shift from left field with the loss of Emily Griggs to graduation.
“We have a lot of players that can contribute and a lot of players with similar abilities,” Torina said. “We can match people up based on their strengths, we can do a lot of different things with this group. It really depends on how this team comes out and what their personality is and who they decided they’re going to be as a group.”
Torina doesn’t expect most of the lineup or the pitching rotation to be set in stone until the Tigers get a few games into the season.
With six games within the first four days of the season, there’s a lot of time for players to show what they have to offer the team.
“I think it’s always nice to see what marks these guys are going to leave on the history of the program and who they’re going to be,” Torina said.