Many players on the LSU softball team have the experience of winning three games in a regional last year, then two more in a super regional to reach the Women’s College World Series.
The players likely to bat third, fourth and fifth in the LSU lineup this weekend do not.
Freshman standouts Bianka Bell, Sandra Simmons and Kellsi Kloss, who batted three-four-five — in that order — for the Tigers in their most recent three games, hope to keep alive memorable rookie seasons when LSU begins postseason play in the Baton Rouge Regional.
The Tigers open with Central Connecticut State at 6 p.m. Friday.
“I don’t think we expect it to be any different,” Simmons said. “We’re just coming out ready to play just like we did in the regular season, and hopefully we come out with the wins we need.”
Bell, Simmons and Kloss join reserve outfielder Alayna Falcon and backup third baseman Hailey Smith as the freshmen on this year’s squad.
Bell, the LSU shortstop, has started 52 games.
Continuing one of the best regular seasons by a freshman batter in LSU history, the former prep All-American from Tampa enters the weekend with a .356 batting average and a .616 slugging percentage. She leads the Tigers with 12 homers and 47 RBIs.
Simmons, the cleanup hitter for LSU in recent games, has stepped in at first base this year and is a 53-game starter with a .268 average and four homers.
Kloss, batting .266 with five homers and 24 RBIs, rotates between catcher and designated player.
She and Simmons are from Orange County, Calif., and were teammates in travel ball most of their teenage years.
“For them to fill the middle spot in the lineup is huge,” LSU coach Beth Torina said of her three freshman starters. “It’s really raised the bar and raised the level of the entire offense. They’ve certainly had a big impact on us. I don’t feel like they’re freshmen anymore. They’re playing well above that.”
The fact the Southeastern Conference put a record 11 teams in the NCAA tournament this year is an indication that LSU’s freshmen have seen their share of top-flight competition and have played in their share of big games.
But this will be their first taste of the postseason.
“We just need to make sure we don’t have a ton of nerves,” Torina said. “I think they just need to play the same game they’ve played all year long, and they’ll be just fine.”
Simmons admitted to being nervous this week.
“A good nervous,” she said. “Not a scared nervous.”
If she finds herself sweating the stakes, Simmons can look into the bleachers and find her grandparents, Chuck and Linda Fortenberry, wearing their best purple and gold.
That would support the first baseman’s approach of the regional being just like any other weekend.
Chuck and Linda have been with the Tigers all season, traveling the Southeast to watch their granddaughter play.
“They have come watch me ever since I was little,” Simmons said. “Travel ball as well. It’s special knowing they’re able to take that time out of their life to stop and travel. I couldn’t thank them enough.”
It’s a long ways from California to Louisiana, but Simmons and Kloss made the trek together last fall after developing their games on the same travel-ball diamonds.
Kloss said she took her first recruiting visit to LSU after her freshman year of high school.
She wasn’t sure what she’d see.
“I’m scared of snakes, so that was a concern,” Kloss said.
The thought of having to deal with Kloss three more years may strike fear in LSU opponents.
On days when senior Lauren Houston has played catcher, Torina has kept her freshman backstop’s bat in the lineup by using Kloss as the designated player.
But Kloss, who began donning catcher’s gear as a youngster, said she always enjoyed catching as much as hitting.
The bumps and bruises and wear and tear never bothered her.
“I think it’s the best position on the field,” she said. “I love the fact I’m involved on every pitch.”
Kloss, a 29-game starter, joined Bell from LSU on the All-SEC Freshman team.
Bell, whose future at LSU could include time in the pitcher’s circle, was named the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year after earning the conference’s Freshman of the Week award twice.
“She’s so awesome,” Kloss said of Bell. “I’m just proud to call her my teammate.”
They have different games and play different positions, but Torina said her three freshman starters have one thing in common.
“They all compete so hard,” she said.
Now, they will have a chance to show it when it matters most.
“We’re coming off a bad week, but we’ve definitely picked it up at practice,” Bell said of the Tigers, who lost their final two games of the regular season and their only game of the SEC tournament. “We’re ready for anything that’s going to happen this weekend.”