It’s lights, camera and action for the LSU softball team on the diamond Thursday, but no Allie Walljasper and no Carley Hoover.
Those two pitchers may have seemed like permanent fixtures in the circle for the Lady Tigers having combined for 182 starts and 1,308⅓ innings pitched during the last four years, but they closed out their careers in 2018.
It hasn’t been determined specifically who will take the ball first when LSU meets Tulsa at 6 p.m. in the first game of the Tiger Classic, but catcher Michaela Schlattman says any fears about a pitching drop-off are unwarranted.
“I definitely think there are people who are doubting, but I have full confidence in them,” Schlattman said of junior Maribeth Gorsuch and sophomore Shelbi Sunseri, the next two in line to step into the void. “I’m excited for them to show what they can do now that they have the chance. They are going to have confidence. MB pitched in big games last year and won big games last year. Shelbi the same. They know what the SEC is all about.”
LSU coach Beth Torina said those two plus freshmen Shelby Wickersham and Ali Kilponen will each start a game, although the order has not been determined. Gorsuch seems the likely candidate after going 9-3 with a 2.10 earned run average in 80 innings in 2018.
Gorsuch, a Lewisville, Texas, native, is more than ready to move into new territory after watching and learning from Walljasper and Hoover.
“I’m ready for it, excited about it,” Gorsuch said. “I’m not looking at it as a burden but a leadership role. With experience the nerves have calmed a little bit. It’s more excitement. We’re ready to get out there and show the fans what we’ve got.
“Allie and Carley brought a lot of fire and competitiveness. I’m going to bring what I bring: fierceness, excitement and energy to the field. I do what I know best and how I pitch the best, that’s when I perform the best.”
Gorsuch was 3-3 in SEC games with two complete games and a combined shutout with Walljasper last year. She said her improvement has mostly been in how to think through each pitcher/batter matchup.
“I’ve improved with my mentality,” she said. “I wouldn’t say my pitches have gotten better speed-wise or spin-wise, but when it comes to the batters I know where to throw it, I know my counts and I’m smarter about where I’m throwing the ball.”
It’s not just the placement of her pitches but her place on the team’s hierarch, Torina said. Walljasper and Hoover set an example that will be hard to duplicate.
“MB is prepared for this,” Torina said. “She’s worked really hard for it and earned it. Not only has she worked hard on pitching, but being a good leader for this staff, what needs to be said and how it needs to be said.”
Gorsuch’s pitching style is based on movement, in and out and up and down. Sunseri will provide a nice counterbalance with her raw speed. She was limited by an injury to 13⅓ innings and two starts but had 34 starts as a position player.
She will be making a bigger jump but has learned from the three in front of her.
“There was so much I learned from them,” Sunseri said of the departed duo. “The major thing is how to go out in any situation and compete, whether it’s going for you or going against you.
“I’ve learned so much from MB. Last year she took me under her wing and was a huge mentor. How to deal with having to step up this year and understanding our role on the team.”
Wickersham, the New Orleans Metro MVP, was 19-3 with an 0.85 ERA and 192 strikeouts for Mt. Carmel. Kilponen had an 87-4 record in three state championship seasons at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Schlattman said the veterans have meshed well with the newcomers.
“They look great; from performance and leadership standpoint, they’ve taken on this role,” Schlattman said of Gorsuch and Sunseri. “They learned so much from Carly and Allie and now they are in a position to lead the team. It’s cool the way they interact with the freshman pitchers, taking them in giving them the experience they have.”
If the pitching staff can stay injury free and develop quickly, it will make LSU even more formidable with a well-seasoned lineup that features seven seniors.
“I feel good about them,” Torina said of the pitching foursome. “As the season goes, they’re going to get better and better. If they do take some lumps early — and I hope they don’t — they will continue to grow and you’re going to see the biggest growth out of them than anyone on the team.”