After the LSU softball team dropped into the losers’ bracket of the NCAA tournament’s Baton Rouge regional last season, it had to win three games that required 26 innings in less than 24 hours to win the title.
This year’s Tigers avoided the need for a similar Herculean effort when they defeated McNeese State 4-1 on Saturday afternoon in Tiger Park. The victory came less than 24 hours after an opening win against Long Island University Brooklyn and sent LSU (47-15) into the championship round at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Cowgirls (43-13) were left to battle Arizona State, which eliminated Long Island 1-0 on Saturday afternoon, at 6 p.m. Saturday to claim the spot opposite the Tigers. LSU will have two opportunities Sunday to win one game and advance to a super regional.
“We put ourselves in a really good position,” said LSU infielder Sahvanna Jaquish, who drove in three runs. “It’s really hot today. They’re really going to be battling it out.”
Jaquish, who had an RBI double against Long Island, added an RBI double and two run-scoring singles against McNeese to provide more than enough offense for Carley Hoover (19-7), who threw a five-hitter after getting the win Friday with 2.2 innings of two-hit relief.
“We play because it’s fun and because we like softball, and this is the best softball that we can play,” Hoover said. “I want to play every opportunity I can so coach (Beth Torina) knows I always want the ball.”
Hoover allowed four singles and Emily Vincent’s solo home run with two outs in the sixth.
The Tigers struck for a run after two were out in the first as Bianka Bell walked and Jaquish doubled her home.
“It was nice to score first,” Torina said. “That always puts us at ease.”
Jaquish came through again with two outs in the third as she singled home Emily Griggs, who had led off with the first of her three singles.
“It took a lot of pressure off me to score first and especially to score early,” Hoover said, “and to know that every time we had runners on base, (Jaquish) was going to get the job done.”
Jaquish got the job done again in the sixth when she blooped an RBI single.
“Sahvanna had a great day, and she’s just a great hitter,” McNeese coach Joanna Hardin said. “There are no holes in that lineup.”
That was illustrated by Griggs, who scored in the third and sixth after getting leadoff hits from the No. 9 spot in the batting order.
“Emily Griggs did an awesome job turning the lineup over for us,” Torina said. “She had some really gritty at-bats for us in the nine hole. She was a major player for us today.”
Jaquish’s final RBI hit finished Cowgirls starter Jamie Allred (17-4), who threw 142 pitches. Vincent relieved and allowed Kellsi Kloss’ RBI single, which completed the scoring.
Allred left the bases loaded in the third when she struck out Allie Walljasper, and she left them loaded again in the fourth when she struck out Bailey Landry and got Bell to fly to left.
“I think Jamie Allred competed her (butt) off,” Hardin said. “She went toe-to-toe with the Tigers.”
After that, LSU sat back and waited to see who would survive to face them on championship Sunday.
“It’s huge not to have to go back out there in the heat today after battling throughout that game,” Torina said. “It’s huge to have our pitching staff rested. We have more arms that people haven’t even seen yet. It’s nice to be in this position, and hopefully we use it wisely.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.