LSU shortstop Bianka Bell’s maturity paying off _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- LSU shortstop Bianka Bell: 'As a leader I needed to compose myself and stay strong for the team. I think I’m doing a better job of that, and it was definitely a big thing for me.'

Just three weeks ago, the LSU softball team was ranked No. 1 in the country, in the thick of the Southeastern Conference title race and undefeated at home.

But since then, the Tigers have slipped to Nos. 5 and 6 in the polls, which will be updated Tuesday. They slid out of the title race and had to win their regular-season finale Sunday to grab the No. 4 seed and final bye in the SEC tournament. They lost five of their last eight games, including three at Tiger Park, where they had won their first 30 games.

So the host team hasn’t been at its best of late as the SEC tournament looms on Wednesday at Tiger Park. But after rebounding from two one-run losses to beat Auburn 7-1 on Sunday, the Tigers were upbeat Monday as they started preparing for their quarterfinal game against either fifth-seeded Tennessee or 12th-seeded Kentucky.

“We had a really good regular season, and that’s done,” outfielder A.J. Andrews said. “It’s really cool to make history and do all the things we did this year. But in the end, it really doesn’t matter, because what we need to do now is we need to continue to win these games in the postseason because they’re really going to count.”

Coach Beth Torina said the Tigers did a much better job of swinging at hittable pitches Sunday after scoring just one run total in the first two games.

“It was definitely a matter of discipline,” shortstop Bianka Bell said. “We were just trying to do too much. We had runners in scoring position, and we were going out of our zone because everyone wanted to try to be the hero of the game and drive in the runs that we needed, which was taking us out of our comfort zone.”

LSU’s defense has been erratic. The Tigers, who played error free Friday and Sunday, made three errors Saturday. Their fielding percentage (.958) ranks 10th in the SEC, and they’re last in conference games (.949).

“We’re trying to leave (the regular season) in the past and move forward from (Sunday’s) game,” Bell said. “And continue doing what we’ve been doing and having better at bats, making smarter plays in the field, making quality pitches and doing the things to keep us on top.”

The series against Auburn was reminiscent of one a week earlier at Missouri, in which LSU struggled in losing the first two games before rebounding to win by the run rule in the finale.

“Hopefully that trend ends here,” Andrews said. “We need to have that Game 3 mentality in Game 1, Game 2 and Game 3 and show up for every game from here on out.

“We’ve been producing all season except for the last couple weeks. We need to channel that team and keep producing.”

Despite the inconsistent finish, LSU, which started the season 25-0, still figures to host an NCAA regional and possibly a super regional.

“Right now, we’re 0-0; and the last time we were 0-0, we went on a pretty good run,” Torina said. “So I think we have a lot of reason to be confident.”

Pitcher Allie Walljapser said getting an extra day to prepare for the first game will be “very helpful.”

“We understand we need to get rid of the glitches,” she said. “We know the things we need to work on to be ready for this week.”

Notes

The Tigers remained No. 2 in the latest RPI released Monday. … Tigers right-hander Carley Hoover was named pitcher of the week by the SEC and the Louisiana Sports Writers Association after allowing just three runs in three complete games last week. Hoover was 2-1 and had an ERA of 1.11, allowing 12 hits and striking out 22 in 19 innings.

Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.