The thought of returning to LSU’s Tiger Park, more than three months after what she thought was her final appearance there, reduced former All-American catcher Sahvanna Jaquish to tears.
“Just playing a game at Tiger Park ... I get emotional just thinking about it,” said Jaquish, the school’s only four-time All-American. “I already have goosebumps. Just touching the field again is what I’m most looking forward to.”
When Jaquish returns to LSU, where she played in 265 games, she’ll look somewhat different wearing No. 33 (she wore No. 2 in college) in the orange and blue uniform of the Chicago Bandits, one of four teams to qualify for National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series.
The league’s signature event will happen at LSU, beginning Thursday with a pair of best-of-three semifinal series. The top two teams advance to a best-of-three championship series at 7 p.m. Saturday, at 1 p.m. Sunday and 4 p.m. Sunday, if necessary.
“It’s great to be at a place like LSU where they see the value in something like this,” said LSU softball coach Beth Torina, whose program averaged 1,772 fans in 2017. “Not just for LSU, but the sport of softball.”
USSSA Pride of Melbourne, Florida, locked down the No. 1 seed by virtue of its regular-season championship.
The Scrap Yard Dawgs of Conroe, Texas, are the No. 2-seeded team, followed by No. 3 Chicago — the two-time defending Cowles Cup champion — with the Akron Racers needing a win over the Texas Charge on Saturday or Sunday to nail down the fourth seed.
Semifinal play opens at 5 p.m. Thursday, beginning with USSSA facing Akron or Texas, followed by Scrap Yard and Chicago.
“If you think college softball’s fast, this game’s even faster — exciting and tons of fun,” said Torina, a former USSSA coach. “I think our fans will have a great appreciation for it.”
There’s a common theme among three of the four teams, with Jaquish leading a group of potentially three or four former LSU players returning for their homecoming.
Former All-American shortstop Bianka Bell has been a reserve infielder for USSSA, batting .286 in 14 games in her rookie season, while Akron would feature former All-Americans, pitcher Rachele Fico (4-4, 3.27 ERA) and outfielder A.J. Andrews (.358, two homers, 12 RBIs).
“Whichever way it goes I think we’re going to see some awesome Tigers coming back to play,” Torina said.
Jaquish was one of the driving forces in LSU’s road to three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances.
Chicago made Jaquish the third overall pick in April’s draft — two spots ahead of teammate Bailey Landry of the Texas Charge — where her transition to the pro level has been seamless.
Jaquish (.322, 12 doubles, three homers, 28 RBIs) has batted in the heart of the Bandits’ order, ranking among the top 10 in the league in three offensive categories and two defensively.
“I realize this will be my last game to sink my cleats into Tiger Park one last time,” Jaquish said. “It’s way more special than I realized. It’s like a Cinderella story going back there.”
The opportunity to play at LSU affords former UL-Lafayette infielder Nerissa Myers (.324, six homers, seven doubles, 23 RBIs) of Scrap Yard the chance to rekindle fond memories where the Ragin’ Cajuns won two NCAA regionals during her career.
“So far it’s been a pleasant experience playing there,” Myers said. “It’s always a great atmosphere whether you’re playing in Baton Rouge or Lafayette. They’re pretty much the best fans in the world. I think it’s going to be exciting and a fun experience.”
Landry, an East Ascension graduate, had a .359 average with five homers and ranked in the top seven in the league in five categories going into her final two games. ... The NPF will conduct a pitching school at 8:30 a.m. Sunday at BREC’s Milton J. Womack Park.