LSU Softball: The Shelby/i Show
There was a sense of calm when Shelbi Sunseri stepped into the box on Thursday morning against Oklahoma State at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational.
With the game tied at one apiece, Sunseri took a deep breath, stepped into the box, swung at a 1-0 screwball, tossed the bat and watched it sail over the left-field fence.
“Day in and day out, I put in a lot of work hitting-wise,” Sunseri said. “I know that if I’m not pitching then I can help my team out that way.”
Sunseri’s hitting has been nothing short of spectacular through the first nine games this season. The sophomore is hitting .474 (9-for-19) and slugging 1.526 with two doubles, six home runs and 19 RBIs. In 2018, she hit .261 with six doubles, one triple, seven home runs and 14 RBIs.
What’s the difference between this year and last? According to head coach Beth Torina, it’s all about the at-bats.
“She got at-bats in a lot of SEC play but she didn’t get any kind of chance to warm up or do anything last year,” Torina said. “She pitched one game, ended up hurt and the next time she came back was an SEC series.”
Sunseri’s injury last year is also a reason why she pitched just 13.1 innings. She’s already pitched 18.1 innings this season.
The Tigers also had All-Americans Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper. When they graduated, Torina needed to find another arm.
Freshman Shelby Wickersham made a strong argument to fill that void.
“I knew she had good stuff,” Torina said. “I would say she has exceeded my expectations. I see her as being a real special player in her future.”
The Louisiana native has a 3-0 record with one complete game and 15.1 innings pitched under her belt. Her first true test was getting the start against the Cowgirls. She allowed one run on three hits in five innings.
She did it with spin, a lot of spin.
“My main focus every day is getting more and more spin,” Wickersham said. “I know I’m not going to blow it by anybody, so I really have to work on moving the ball rather than how hard I’m going to throw it.”
Sunseri and Wickersham have formed a unit or “The Shelbs” as Torina refers to them. They throw bullpens together during the week and are in constant communication throughout games, which plays an important role with the young duo.
“I think all four of us pitchers are really good at communicating,” Sunseri said. “We’re all really good about, ‘Hey, I threw this last time and she looked really on it’ or ‘I threw this and she hit it.’”
Wickersham and Sunseri know they aren’t Hoover or Walljasper, but they know that the pitching staff at LSU will constantly give hitters a series of different looks.
“It’s been a challenge to us as pitchers for us to be able to do it ourselves and know that we are Shelby and Shelbi and MB (Maribeth Gorsuch) and Ali (Kilponen),” said Sunseri. We all bring something different and are all effective and good in our own way.”
The theme to this season is “Fight all the way.” Torina knows that there will be struggles during the season but she’s enjoying what she sees so far.
“I think this pitching staff is going to be way better at the end of the season than they are at the beginning, just from the experience. They need it,” she said. “But so far, they’ve done everything we’ve asked.”