By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports
If there is one thing Raelin Chaffin has learned early in her LSU career, it is to be ready at all times. Prepare as if you’re going to be called on at a moment’s notice because, chances are, you will be.
Chaffin wasn’t planning on pitching when No. 21 LSU took on No. 2 Alabama in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, March 12 at Tiger Park. When one of the Tigers’ pitchers got hit in the face during practice, however, LSU coach Beth Torina knew she could rely on Chaffin.
“You never know what is going to happen when you go into a series; that’s why you have everyone ready,” Torina said. “We had all-hands-on-deck, and that is the point of having a deep pitching staff. You never know when your number was going to be called, and she was ready when her number was called today.”
Yes, one year removed from her stellar career at Airline High School, Chaffin was ready. The Tiger freshman:
- retired 21 of the 22 batters she faced
- recorded five strikeouts and no walks
- pitched her second consecutive complete game
- gave up just one hit (a home run in the second inning)
- raised her record to 3-0 with the 5-1 victory.
“I guess I do not pay attention that much, but I did not even know it was a one-hitter,” Chaffin said after the game. “It was the last inning and I looked up and saw a 1 on the board. I did not even know I was going to start; I thought they were going back to Ali (Kilponen). Once I knew I got the start, I knew it was time to get to work.”
Since the Tigers had taken game one of the doubleheader (13-6) against the Crimson Tide earlier in the day, Chaffin’s victory clinched the series against the nation’s No. 2 team (LSU dropped the third game of the series, 2-1, the next day),“Now, I tell myself I’m pitching every game,” Chaffin says of her mindset. “After the Alabama game, I was prepared for everything.”
It was also after the Alabama game that Chaffin was named SEC Freshman of the Week. Three days later, Chaffin pitched four innings, gave up just two hits, recorded four strikeouts and improved her record to 4-0 as LSU defeated Southeastern Louisiana 11-2 in five innings.
Chaffin suffered her first loss of the season in a five-inning outing on the road to Texas on March 19. This past weekend in Bryan-College Station, she gave up four runs on eight hits and struck out two in LSU’s 5-4 loss Sunday against Texas A&M. The Lady Tigers had taken the series with 2-1 and 11-8 victories on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“Right now, I’m working on getting better on every pitch,” says Chaffin, who fell to 4-2 with the recent loss. “I have to remember at times that I’m a freshman and this is the SEC. Nothing is easy. Whether we’re playing the worst or best team in the conference, everybody is talented.”
While pitching for LSU was always a goal and a dream for Chaffin, she wasn’t expecting to get her chance so soon. She saw her first action on Feb. 12, pitching four innings in the Tigers’ 3-2 loss to Central Arkansas. In her next outing one week later, Chaffin gave up three runs on three hits in just 1.2 innings of work in LSU’s 9-4 loss to Washington.
On opening day of the Purple & Gold Challenge on Feb. 25, Chaffin got the start against Drake and struck out three batters in four innings to earn her first victory as LSU took care of the Bulldogs 12-4 in five innings.
“She is a freshman, and she is learning every time she goes out there,” Torina said after the Drake game. “This was better than her last start, and she was able to get her first win today, which was awesome. I saw some really good things; she just needs to continue to work on her depth a little bit and be a little more versatile as the game goes on.”
Her next start was memorable. In the final game of the LSU Invitational against Central Connecticut State on March 6, Chaffin registered her first complete-game shutout as the Tigers blanked the Blue Devils 5-0.
Chaffin, who struck out a season-high 12 batters and gave up up just three hits and two walks, calls that game “a big confidence booster.”
“I thought Raelin did a great job,” Torina said after the Central Connecticut State game. “She did everything we needed her to do. She obviously had her best start of the year, and one of the best starts we have had from a pitcher all year, honestly.”Chaffin’s immediate success is no surprise to Brittany Frazier Smith, her coach at Airline.
“Raelin is one-of-a-kind on and off the field,” Smith says of the three-time Pitcher of the Year for the Lady Vikings. “I am so thankful that I got to coach her for four years. She puts a lot of pressure on herself to succeed, constantly get better, and be great. She always worked super hard, even outside of practice. Lots of time, sweat, and tears have gone into what she is today.”
Smith says getting to watch her former star pitcher play on TV is the “icing on the cake.”
So, when will Chaffin step into the circle next? “That’s a good question,” she says. “We don’t know until 35-40 minutes before a game if we’re going to pitch.”
As the LSU coach has learned, Chaffin can be ready on a moment’s notice.