Season progressing like Girouard expected

Coming into the 2003 season, LSU head coach Yvette Girouard knew she would have her work cut out for her. <br><br>Gone from the 2002 squad were All-Americans Britni Sneed and Trena Peel. Her four-time defending Southeastern Conference Champions would have to rely on youngsters if they were to continue their dominance over the SEC.

With Peel and Sneed no longer around, Girouard knew coming into the season that opposing squads would be gunning for the Tigers.

"I knew the SEC race would be a tremendous challenge and I tried to prepare everybody for that," Girouard said. "Teams have confidence against us now and they come into a series thinking that they can beat us.

"The last couple of years teams they didn't think they could beat Britni (Sneed). They knew they were going to get beat two out of three times."

Through their first 32 games of the season, the Tigers sit with a comfortable 29-11. Their 8-6 in-conference record is good for second in the SEC West.

Girouard, though, is happy with the success of her Tigers so far.

"It's not unlike what I had prepared myself for," Girouard said. "I knew that we would be up and down and all around. I've been very pleased in some spots. I've been pleased with the way we have been able to scratch and claw and fight to win games when it's ugly on the field. We've never quit and that is very pleasing to any coach."

One thing that the Tiger head coach has not been pleased with is a defense that has committed 46 errors on the season.

"I think we're a much better club than we've showed in the field," Girouard said. "I knew that there was going to be errors because of the lack of strikeouts, and I knew consequently that when errors are made that puts more pressure on your offense to score more runs."

Junior second baseman/outfielder Sara Fitzgerald has been the biggest surprise for the Tigers this season. The Kingwood, Texas, native is LSU's leading hitter with a .296 average and leads the team with 40 hits.

Girouard has nothing but praise for the 5-foot-3 Fitzgerald.

"There is no question that Sara Fitzgerald has exceeded every expectation," Girouard said. "She's a little girl with a lot of pop in her bat and she loves prime-time situations. She just manages to come up with some big hits."

Shortstop Blair Smith has also been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers as well. The sophomore was known for her excellent fielding, but it has been a .245 batting average that has been the biggest surprise for the Tigers.

Girouard credits Smith's outstanding work ethic as the catalyst to her emergence at the plate.

"Blair walks up to the plate right now like she wants to hurt the ball and crush a mistake," said Girouard. "It's no secret that last year her swing was almost painful to watch. (Smith hit .184 last year) She couldn't get the ball past the shortstop. Now she's driving the ball to the fence. She is hitting the ball with authority and it is jumping off her bat."

Perhaps the fuel for the Tigers' offensive engine is LaDonia Hughes. Playing an outstanding centerfield, the junior college transfer is third on the team with a .285 average despite being hurt at several different times this season.

Girouard said Hughes is the key to the success of the LSU's offensive attack.

"She's playing with a broken bone in her hand," Girouard said. "You've got to tip your hat to her. She's not playing at full strength and won't be probably until next year.

"She (Hughes) is a tremendous outfielder and has made some phenomenal plays for us. She's been very hot and cold and she needs to be more consistent for us. Her on-base-percentage (.331 to-date) has got to come up."

Along with the hitting, the pitching has been very up and down this season for the Tigers, something Girouard said that must be corrected.

"I was more than pleasantly surprised with our pitching at the beginning of the year," Girouard said. "I thought we were throwing extremely well. That's another aspect of our team that has hit a bump and we're trying to correct that."

While ace Kristin Schmidt (17-9, 0.92 ERA) has had a solid season, Girouard said that Tessa Lynam (12-2, 2.01 ERA) must step up to fill the role of the second starter.

"Tessa came out like gang busters pitching and I think that it had a lot to do with that she could only do one task. Her broken hand early in the season allowed her to only pitch and she was extremely focused on that.

"We need her to pitch. She sees herself as a hitter and when she doesn't do what she thinks she's capable of doing at the plate she's very hard on herself and I think that affects her performance in the circle."

Behind the plate, Girouard is very pleased with the performance of her two catchers, sophomore Leigh Ann Danos and Jennie Reeves.

While Reeves has contributed with her glove (.996 fielding percentage), Danos has contributed with her bat. Danos is hitting .283 on the season and her .550 slugging percentage is tops on the Tigers' team.

Girouard said the combination of Reeves and Danos behind the plate gives her many options as the head coach.

"Jennie Reeves is a great defensive player who calls the pitches and runs the pitchers," Girouard said. "Day in and day out Leigh Ann possess a bat that can, with one swing, win a ball game for you."

Having already gone through the toughest part of the SEC schedule, Girouard expects big things from her Tigers.

"Overall I'm not shocked with what has happened," Girouard said. "We have the worst stretch of the SEC over with. We have tried to make our team aware of the fact that we need to just getter better. We try to get better in some aspects every day. In the end is where it counts."

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