Rather than treat this weekend’s NCAA regional as an extension of her team’s thus far 56-game grind, LSU softball coach Beth Torina went in the other direction.
Torina, who has taken four of her previous seven Tigers teams to the Women’s College World Series, opted for “fun things, crazy things” as they prepare to meet No. 4-seed Monmouth at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
One of those was a scrimmage against the coaching staff.
“We were good, let me tell you,” Torina said with a laugh. “I had forgotten how much (assistant coaches) Sandra Simmons and Allie Walljasper could hit. We were competitive. They loved it. Sandra bombed one off the wall. I thought she was a has-been.
“We tried to do as many things as we could to remind them what an enjoyable game this is. Softball is not their life, it’s something they do.”
A little levity could go a long way for one of the more seasoned teams in the tournament but one coming in on a five-game losing streak. Even with seven seniors on the roster and five in the starting lineup, Torina said she isn’t looking for emotional speeches or contrived hyping, but a squad that is relaxed and playing at a high level.
“They need to do what they’ve done all season long,” Torina said. “That’s what we talked about (Thursday). We’re not going to talk about this as a big event. It’s another event on our schedule. We prepare the same. Every game on our schedule has been important. We didn’t change what we did because it’s the regionals.”
LSU’s hitting has slumped in the past month, dropping 28 points from the team batting average over a 16-game span. Torina said it’s at least partly because of the quality of pitching the team has faced, which is why she isn’t sounding alarm bells.
With players who have been to the Women's College World Series, no one has to be told what this weekend means, and that any nervousness will dissipate when the game begins.
“It’s very important having that experience and showing the younger ones that may not have experienced the postseason like we have,” senior second baseman Shemiah Sanchez said. “Three years in the postseason and two years all the way to the World Series ... we know how tough it is; it’s not easy to get there.”
Sanchez said she remembers having nerves as a freshman but then watched former teammates like Simmons and Bianka Bell “coming out on fire and keeping us motivated,” turning it into a fun experience.
Sanchez is one senior that has lifted her team, batting .291 with a team high 17 home runs and 45 RBIs. Shelbi Sunseri has 16 homers and a team high 56 RBIs while senior third baseman Amanda Sanchez is batting .400 with 52 RBIs.
LSU won’t be facing a powerhouse team in Monmouth (36-16), which won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. But the Hawks do have an effective pitcher who does most of their dealing from the circle. Alyssa Irons led the nation in innings pitched (257⅓) and has a 30-10 record with a 1.47 ERA.
Torina sounded confident in her team’s experience and a season of battling in one of the nation’s toughest conferences.
“It’s hard to find a team as experienced as ours,” she said. “(Our seniors have been) A-plus. It’s a special group. I’m proud of them no matter what the outcome this week. I love how this team has come together.”