LSU softball: Three takeaways from the Tigers’ 2-1 series win at Ole Miss

LSU softball: Three takeaways from the Tigers' 2-1 series win at Ole Miss
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The second game of a series is a chance to flip momentum.

For the victor of game one, the challenge is to match the effort from before and take full control of the series. The loser must change something or face an overall series loss.

After LSU dropped the first game of its series to Ole Miss on March 24, it could have easily been the beginning of a disappointing three-game slide at the hands of the Rebels.

The Tigers left nine runners stranded on base in the 1-5 result, losing in a fashion reminiscent of other recent losses in which LSU failed to come up with hits when it needed it most.

After the loss, LSU had dropped four straight games against SEC opponents and five of its last six in the conference. Finding a foothold and flipping the series would require a quality of effort the Tigers hadn’t produced in a while.

LSU responded in a big way, winning the final two games of the series by scores of 2-0 and 3-1. Freshman Sydney Berzon pitched a complete game on back-to-back days, collecting 13 strikeouts and allowing only one run. 

The Tigers’ offense supported Berzon with 13 hits across the two days, including two extra base hits.

The 2-1 series win was good enough to keep LSU at No. 12 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll and move it up to No. 14 in the NFCA Coaches’ Poll. 

The success was a good sign for an LSU team searching for consistency so far in its SEC schedule, and it provided several takeaways about the team and its players.

Raileen Gutierrez’s continued success

To start the season, Georgia Clark was entrenched as LSU’s first baseman after having started all 57 games at the position the year prior.

However, in every game since February 25, Raileen Gutierrez has taken over at first base, with Clark slotting in as the designated hitter. 

The change has been good for both players, with Clark hitting .314 on the season, sporting a .464 on-base percentage that ranks second on the team and having drawn a team-leading 25 walks (No. 4 in the SEC).

Gutierrez, meanwhile, has provided reliable defense while hitting a batting average of .308. She led LSU in hits over the weekend with four, while providing a crucial three RBIs.

The timing of Gutierrez’s RBIs was especially noteworthy, with a Saturday sacrifice fly serving as an important insurance run in the seventh inning and both of her RBIs on Sunday breaking ties at different points in the game.

“I love that for her,” said head coach Beth Torina on Gutierrez’s recent success. “I think she’s an awesome team person. She’s a player that the team pulls for. She’s just really joyful and brings a lot of positive atmosphere to our program. It’s great when people like that have the success that they deserve.”

Berzon getting back on track in a stellar freshman campaign

Berzon, a freshman out of Buffalo, New York, has had an excellent first year so far for the Tigers. She’s emerged as a legitimate second ace for LSU, with a 9-2 record behind a 1.49 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

“For a freshman to do what she’s done with the consistency that she’s found is really incredible. We knew that we had a special talent from the beginning,” Torina said. 

Berzon had struggled in her first three SEC appearances, allowing 10 earned runs across two starts and one relief appearance. 

She faced Ole Miss searching for her very first SEC win and came up big with two straight complete games, including a shutout. 

“[Despite the early losses], she still felt good about how she threw. She felt like she was executing pitches well. She felt like things were still coming around, she was getting better, she was improving her own pitches and just didn’t quite get the result, and I think we saw the outcome of that at Ole Miss,” Torina said.

Berzon was recognized as the SEC Freshman of the Week after her performance at Ole Miss while also receiving national Freshman of the Week honors from D1Softball. 

Ali Kilponen’s recent struggles

In contrast, LSU’s other ace pitcher has had difficulties in recent games. Kilponen, in her fifth year with the Tigers, was 8-0 on the season before LSU faced Tennessee.

Since March 17, Kilponen is 0-3 and has an ERA of 5 in those games, compared to her 1.86 ERA for the rest of the season. It’s worth noting that two of those losses came against a vaunted Tennessee team that looks to be the best in the SEC.

Despite these difficulties, LSU has not lost faith in Kilponen, and for good reason–she has years of experience proving she’s capable of bouncing back.

“She’ll just continue to do what she does, and that’s consistently keep us in every ball game, give us a chance to win every ball game. We’re 100% confident in her. I hope she is in herself, too,” Torina said.

LSU will now turn to hosting the Purple and Gold Challenge, playing games against BYU, NC State and Louisiana Tech over the weekend. The tournament will be a useful break from the rigorous SEC schedule before the Tigers face Missouri in a three-game series starting April 6.

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About Marc Lemoine 1916 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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