The last time No. 14 LSU visited Sherri Parker Lee Stadium was May 11, 2017.
On that night, the Tigers knocked the hosting Lady Vols out of SEC tournament contention, 6-2, en route to the conference tournament championship game.
This Friday, No. 10 Tennessee (34-8, 5-7 SEC) will be aiming to return the favor in the first of a three-game series, one that the Lady Vols need to win. However, don’t expect what happened last season to be on their mind.
For the Lady Vols, it’s just another week in the SEC.
“No, it’s not personal,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We played them four times last year, and late last night I was looking at the video and the scorecards from that game. Anytime you can go 2-2 against them, that’s good.”
Tennessee has lost its last three conference series, including a sweep by South Carolina just over three weeks ago. With the Tigers coming to town for a top 25 match-up, the game presents a much-needed opportunity for the Lady Vols to get back on the winning track.
It certainly helps that Tennessee is coming off of an 8-0 win versus Memphis on Tuesday, putting together one of its most complete performances this season. The win helped the mindset of the team heading back into SEC play.
“I think the mindset is good,” Weekly said. “I was very pleased with the win against Memphis. It was a pivotal time for us coming off of what we did last weekend. We needed to hit, and we hit.”
However, like any SEC opponent, LSU (32-7, 7-4 SEC) will also present a challenge for Tennessee, both offensively and defensively.
The Tigers’ pitching staff is led by senior right-hander Carley Hoover (14-3). Hoover ranks fourth in the league in strikeouts with 141. Despite a Tennessee batting order that has struggled in recent weeks, the Lady Vols will be looking to find success against the LSU ace.
Behind Hoover is fellow senior right-hander Allie Walljasper (11-3), who currently holds the No. 3 spot in the SEC with an ERA of 0.74.
“We’re going to face two of the best pitchers in the nation,” Weekly said. “We’ve faced both of them before, and they are both amazing pitchers. The four top ERA teams in our league are Georgia, Auburn, LSU and Florida.”
“We haven’t played Florida, but the other three we’ve caught in successive weeks. We’ve got to get out there and do the best that we can do.”
One of the keys to Tennessee’s offensive success against the Tiger pitchers will be senior shortstop Meghan Gregg. In Tuesday’s win over Memphis, she tied former Lady Vol Tonya Callahan as the all-time leader in home runs with a three-run homer.
“The game in Columbia (Tennessee) actually gave us a lot of confidence on the offensive side,” Gregg said. “We haven’t really been seeing that. Playing against Memphis and getting some runs on the board was really, really big for us.”
For Gregg, the best approach to fixing Tennessee’s hitting struggles is to keep pushing forward versus opposing pitchers, something the Lady Vols will need to do against a strong defensive LSU team.
“We’re just going to have to keep going at them,” Gregg said. “Following up the person in front of you and doing the same thing. We have to keep that momentum going.”
Gregg leads the team with 12 homers and 56 RBIs. She is currently batting .413, which is second behind leadoff hitter Aubrey Leach, who is hitting (.452).
Ranked 12th in the league in team batting average (.264), LSU doesn’t boast the same firepower as other SEC teams which have faced Tennessee this season. However, Weekly believes the series will be another defensive struggle.
“We’ve won some games 1-0,” Weekly said. “I think runs are going to be hard to come by this weekend. If we’re going to be successful, it may be a 1-0 game.”
The Tigers and Lady Vols are set to do battle at Sherri Park Lee Stadium beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday. All three games are slated to be nationally televised, with Friday’s contest airing on ESPN2.