Highlight of LSU Invitational figures to be two matchups between Tigers, Cajuns

6 days ago The Advocate 0

LSU softball enters its second weekend series officially with the four-team LSU Invitational, but the subtext is a taste of rivalry and postseason play.

The No. 7-ranked Tigers will play in-state rival UL, along with Samford and North Dakota over the span of three days.

LSU (5-0) plays Samford (3-2) at 6 p.m. Friday at Tiger Park, UL (4-1) at 4 p.m. Saturday in Lafayette and then a Sunday doubleheader in in Baton Rouge against North Dakota (3-2) at 12:30 p.m. and UL at 3 p.m.

Although LSU coach Beth Torina is trying to build her team slowly with incremental improvement throughout the year, she said her team needs to jump in and play postseason caliber opponents as early and often as possible.

“These kids came to LSU to be challenged,” Torina said. “It’s an opportunity to challenge them. I’m sure ULL feels the same way. It’s a great test for both programs. Hopefully we’ll see each other again, or somebody, in June. We’re trying to play for the end of the year. This is a good opportunity to prepare our team for what’s in front of us.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns dropped from No. 10 to No. 13 after last weekend’s five-game start. The only loss came 2-1 to North Texas. UL beat Texas-San Antonio twice, Ball State and Lamar. LSU leads the programs’ series 15-10.

The Cajuns have six starters back from the 2019 team that went 52-6 but lost in the finals of the Ole Miss regional. Ace pitcher Summer Ellyson returns, and the Cajuns have added two-time All American pitcher Megan Kleist, who transferred from Oregon. Kleist went 2-0 last weekend with a shutout and 20 strikeouts in 13 innings.

“It’s a regional or super-regional matchup in February,” said LSU sophomore designated player Georgia Clark, who was named SEC Player of the Week. “The crowds are going to be awesome. For the young people, it’s a good opportunity to get some experience and take it with us into SEC play.”

Clark is one of those young players who responded well to her first chance at full-time work. She went 4 for 6 with two home runs and five RBIs and walked eight times. Another youngster, freshman shortstop Taylor Pleasants, was even better. She went 9 for 13 with four RBIs, two doubles and a homer.

LSU pitching was the star of the weekend, allowing only 13 hits, four runs, two earned and with 28 strikeouts to five walks. Sophomore Ali Kilponen had two saves and a win in three chances and had eight strikeouts with zero walks in five innings.

“I’ve usually been a starter,” Kilponen said. “That was a different role, but I really liked it. I had all the energy to go in and try to finish the game off.”

Torina said Kilponen won’t be limited to that role, that she will continue to mix and match her pitchers in various combinations.

“She’s really good in that spot,” Torina said. “It’s a good place for her. Several of our pitchers work in combination because they do things differently. They’re hard to prepare for because they have a different look about them. Is she going to be a closer? I don’t know, I’ve never had one, maybe one time. She’s going to do whatever the team needs her to do.”