LSU's One-Two Punch Prepares For What's Ahead In 2021
In the shortened 2020 season, stats still counted. And the LSU pitching staff had a season to remember.
In total, six Tiger hurlers combined for a 0.95 team ERA over 24 games to lead all DI teams. The staff also had a 21-3 record overall with 151 strikeouts and only 20 earned runs allowed. Sophomore pitcher Shelby Wickersham, coming off a 0.40 ERA in 2020 that placed her second in the DI ranks, said the staff's success had a lot to do with utilizing the right people.
“We all have different strengths, we complement each other very well,” Wickersham said. “If we’re playing a team that is good at hitting drop balls, one pitcher will pitch and if we’re playing a team that’s not as good at hitting rise balls, another one of us will pitch. We cover all of our bases on what other teams’ strengths and weaknesses are.”
Sophomore pitcher Ali Kilponen agreed and thinks the one-two punch of her and Wickersham, along with the rest of the staff, is a lot for an opposing team to deal with.
“Wick is more spinning, change of speeds, and I’m more hard and up,” said Kilponen. “We’re able to match with each other really well and that aspect keeps people off balance a lot of the time, as well as being really close with each other and being able to be our own support system for each other.”
In addition to its pitching, one could argue that LSU's offense was just as impressive in 2020. The Tigers, as a team, batted .344 with a whopping 200 hits, 155 RBIs, 41 doubles and 19 home runs in just 24 games. For Wickersham, that type of offense can boost the pitching.
“I think the offense helps propel us into good innings,” Wickersham said. “So, when we have that energy coming off of a big score or big inning, it definitely takes a lot of pressure off of us so that we can just be freer and do what we do best. It just helps knowing that they’re going to get their job done and that makes us want to get our jobs done too.”
The Tigers will enter the 2021 season coming off a challenge that all teams have faced this year: a worldwide pandemic. The coronavirus has forced the Tigers to make some changes to their practices, as the team has practiced in groups and not as a full team this fall.
Those obstacles have Wickersham thinking of the bigger picture.
“I think that there’s a lot of challenges, but I think it almost makes your time at softball more enjoyable if that’s even possible,” Wickersham said. “That’s our outlet and our escape from our daily routine. I just think that it’s been difficult doing online school, for sure, but going to softball is a release from all that stress.”
LSU, of course, plays in the SEC, a conference that had all 13 of its softball teams in the tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Kilponen sees playing in the SEC as a chance for the team to show the world what it’s made of.
“I think it’s exciting, I think it’s exciting that we get to go face some of the best players in the nation,” Kilponen said. “I think it’s really cool that you get your best nine against their best nine, but the thing is, we have a whole team that is just stacked. We have so many different tools that we bring out and so I think it’s so cool in the SEC that that’s the time we really get to show it.”
And for Wickersham, playing competitive teams is the reason why she chose to come to LSU in the first place.
“I think being competitive is one of the best parts of the game,” Wickersham said. “If (there) were not close games all the time, it wouldn’t be any fun.”