In the first meeting between the two programs, the Tigers (9-3) open the tournament against Villanova, which will be playing its first game of the year, on Friday at 1:30 p.m. CT. LSU will then face a rematch with No. 7 Cal State Fullerton (10-4) at 4 p.m. CT. Pool play will conclude on Saturday when the Tigers face No. 10 Oklahoma (5-2) at 9 a.m. CT. Bracket play will begin on Saturday afternoon and conclude on Sunday.
"This is a tremendous tournament," said LSU head coach Yvette Girouard. "It will be a nice challenge for our young team.
"We will be playing an opponent I have never faced in my coaching career in Villanova. They are a real unknown. Then we will play Fullerton again and I'm sure they will be trying to atone for their loss to us last weekend. Finally we will play against one of the great programs in college softball in Oklahoma. Our pool play is extremely tough and then what awaits you is all ranked teams in bracket play. That's what makes this just a great softball tournament."
During the current five-game winning streak, the LSU bats have come alive. The Tigers have hit .302 with nine doubles, two triples and eight home runs for a .595 slugging percentage. LSU has also outscored its opponents 29-5 in that stretch.
Sophomore Blair Smith has led the charge with a team-best .346 batting average, including a .429 average over the last five games. Just 12 games into the season, she has tied her career high with three doubles and recorded her first career triple.
Tied for the Southeastern Conference lead in doubles this season with six, Sara Fitzgerald is swinging at a .316 clip, including a .353 mark over the last five games. In the first meeting with Cal State Fullerton this season, she nailed the first home run of her career.
The Southeastern Conference and Louisiana Sports Writer's Association Hitter of the Week Julie Wiese is also hitting above .300 for the year, with a .314 average, including a .400 average over the last five games. During the UNLV Softball Classic, she hit four home runs and a double in five games for a 1.267 slugging percentage.
Not to be outdone, the Tiger pitching has also been stellar this season. Junior Kristin Schmidt has thrown a complete-game no-hitter and combined for a second no-hitter in just eight appearances. She ranks in the top 10 in the SEC in earned run average at 0.60, opponents batting average at .115 and saves with one.
Sophomore Tessa Lynam has been perfect in her five starts this season, posting a 5-0 record including a combined no-hitter against Cal Poly and a shutout of Northwestern State. Despite wearing a cast on her glove hand for her first six appearances of the season, she has only allowed four earned runs and is averaging 7.5 strikeouts per seven innings.
Earlier this season at the UNLV Softball Classic in Las Vegas, LSU defeated then-No. 10 Cal State Fullerton, 4-3, in the first meeting between these two teams. The Tigers scored two in the first inning and one in the fifth to open a 3-1 lead before the Titans tied the game in the bottom of the fifth. LSU responded with a run in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of a walk, an error and pair of wild pitches to bring home the winning run.
This is the fifth-consecutive year the Tigers are competing in the NFCA Leadoff Classic. They are 10-10 all-time in the tournament. LSU posted its best records, 3-2, in 2000 and 2003. The Tigers went 2-3 in 1999 and 2001.
The Tigers are 3-1 all-time against Oklahoma. LSU lost the first meeting, a 5-2 decision to the No. 11 Sooners in the 1999 NFCA Leadoff Classic. The Tigers then defeated the No. 9 Sooners in the NCAA Regional in Baton Rouge, 7-3, later that season. At the Oklahoma Tournament in 2000, LSU defeated the No. 3-ranked Sooners, 3-0. The final meeting was a 2-1, 13-inning Tiger win in the 2001 Women's College World Series.
The tournament field is broken down into six pools of four teams each, with those pools broken down into three eight-team brackets for championship play. The top team in each pool and two at-large teams will be selected for the Gold Championship bracket. The remaining second-place teams and four at-large teams will be placed in the Silver Championship bracket. The final eight teams will compete in the Bronze Championship.
Of the 23 possible opponents the Tigers could face in bracket play, 17 are nationally ranked, including six top 10-ranked teams. LSU will get an early look at conference rivals No. 17 Alabama and No. 16 South Carolina and future opponent Southern Miss.