SOFTBALL: In the field at Tiger Park

Experience is the key. Not always, but for the majority of the time, experience is the key.

John Brady and his men's basketball team advanced to the Final Four this past season with one starting senior and few upperclassmen. Pokey Chatman and her women's basketball squad did the same in 2004 and 2005 when they advanced to the Final Four both years.


But in softball, head coach Yvette Girouard has not had the same luck. The Tigers advanced to the Women's College World Series in 2004 because a trio of senior players. One senior, Kristin Schmidt, was an All-American and even earned the Women's College World Series MVP Award in a losing effort.

The next season, without Schmidt and the previous season's leadership, Girouard's ship sunk. Nine freshmen donned purple and goal that season, with three starting on opening day. The Tigers struggled throughout the season against competitive teams and compiled a lackluster overall record of 31-23, including a 12-18 conference deficit.


But in 2006, things got better for Girouard. The young Tigers now had a year of experience under their belts, and they were each a little wiser and a little stronger. Driven by the arm of right-handed pitcher Emily Turner, LSU improved their overall season record to a more respectable 55-14 finish. They finished at 22-8 in conference play and fell one game short of advancing to the World Series at the Arizona super regional.


Now in 2007, Girouard's squad is even wiser, stronger and more experienced than the majority of their opposition. Six players on defense have started for at least two seasons, and Tiger pitching will be one of the best units in the nation.


"I believe we will be picked to win the west," Girouard said. "We are expecting big things for our team and feel confident we have the athletes to do so."


Turner will be the No. 1 pitcher throughout the season, and said she will be looking for her second All-American award. The senior is coming off an amazing season where she earned a 28-9 overall record.


"I think Emily [Turner] had the best fall since she's been here," Girouard said. "She proved last year she was All-American caliber. The Alabama weekend I thought she could have beaten anyone in the country. We just had to get her over that hump."


Dani Hofer will be the No. 2 pitcher behind Turner. Girouard said Hofer is much improved from her freshman season and she will be looking toward her for positive innings.


If necessary, Tiffany Garcia will be closing for the Tigers and said she is beginning to gain complete control of pitches. The junior saw limited playing time in 2006 behind Megan Jolly, who exited the team due to a family emergency.


"I'm feeling really good. I feel more confident in my pitches, and I'm working more ahead in the count instead of behind in the count," Garcia said. "In the fall, I worked really hard on being more consistent and keying in on each pitch."


Killian Roessner will be working behind the plate at catcher and has manned the position since halfway through the 2005 season. Roessner said catcher is the most interesting position on the team because she works directly with three completely different personalities.


Making up the diamond, Vanessa Soto moved from second base to first base following the departure of Stephanie Hill. The third-year starter has never played first base at LSU but said she occupied the position occasionally in high school.


Junior Shannon Stein will move into the lineup at second-base, while Andrea Smith closes the gap at shortstop. 2007 will be Smith's third year starting, and she has provided shutdown defense throughout her career.


At third, Tayl'r Hollis will man the foul line. Hollis is a junior transfer from Oklahoma and a St. Amant resident.


"I think this year's team has amazing chemistry," Hollis said. "The core of our team is back. I expect greatness out of this team. I think we have the potential to be in the College World Series. We all know that."


The outfield will be covered by two returning starters in All-American Leslie Klein and Quinlan Duhon. Klein will patrol center field and said she feels no side effects from her ACL tear in 2004. Duhon will again play right field for her third season as a starter, while left field is still up for grabs.


Freshman Jazz Jackson from Houston has challenged junior speedster Dee Dee Henderson for the starting role, and Girouard said the job could go to either.


"Dee Dee [Henderson] has finally come around," Girouard said. "As a staff, we love Dee Dee and have wanted to get her in at defense. She is finally starting to pick defense up."

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