LSU softball has long been known for its exceptional pitching in former All-Americans like Allie Walljasper and Carley Hoover, as well as its ability to blow it out of the park with batters like Sahvanna Jaquish and Bianka Bell. But the Tigers have never had a player who could do both.
Hitting and pitching are both difficult aspects of softball, and the average coach only expects her players to be exceptional at one or the other. For sophomore Shelbi Sunseri, she has decided that choosing is overrated and has taken strides to be a leader in both categories through the first 11 games of the season.
Sunseri has started all 11 games and pitched in five of those games, posting a 2.80 earned run average with 18 strikeouts in only 20 innings.
While those stats are impressive, she has been even more of a menace at the plate for the Tigers.
So far this season, she is batting .435 with a team-high six home runs and 20 runs batted in. If a pitch is close to her, she is finding a way to put the barrel on it in the early going.
Even through these amazing stats, LSU finished 3-2 in the St. Pete/Clearwater Invitational that included a loss to the team that eliminated them last year — Florida State.
To make matters worse, the Tigers fell 9-1 behind rough outings on the mound from Sunseri, Ali Kilponen and Shelby Wickersham.
After this loss, the mantra of “Fight All the Way” remains the same and Sunseri sees the weekend, specifically the Florida State game, as a learning experience for the whole team.
“I think we gathered a lot of information as far as what we need to work on,” Sunseri said. “We have a lot of young players on the team, and I think just being in the atmosphere early on was good for them.”
The Tigers did play four top-20 teams in the invitational, which will add necessary experience and character that can be called upon down the line in the long season.
Through the weekend, Sunseri shined at the plate, going 3-for-8 with two home runs and six RBIs, but found less success in the circle as she pitched 9.3 innings while giving up eight earned runs.
As the tournament progressed, the opposing pitchers started to pitch around Sunseri to get to easier hitters. This change saw her go 0-for-3 against Texas and 1-for-3 against Florida State with no RBIs.
LSU assistant coach Howard Dobson sees the adjustment by the opposing teams on Sunseri as something that will not go away.
“She’s done a really good job at handling all pitches that are thrown at her,” Dobson said. “Now she has to understand that the better that you hit things, the more people circle you in the lineup.”
The early explosion from the sophomore has already made her a target for No. 1 Florida State, so she can only expect every other team to give her tougher pitches to hit.
Dobson is not worried about the added pressure because he knows how well Sunseri can control the zone. He expects her to take more pitches and continue to excel in the position that she is given.
As for Sunseri herself, the season is young and hopeful, and she brings much of the same.
“The attitude is still the same,” Sunseri said. “I don't think that we are letting that loss hurt us or hinder us. We are getting back to work, putting our head down and working toward a national championship.”