Carley Hoover chose LSU for a chance to go to the Women’s College World Series, and the right-hander’s arrival gave the Tigers a better chance of getting there.
Now, Hoover will be center stage as LSU faces Arizona in the NCAA Baton Rouge super regional, which begins at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Park. The winner of the best-of-three series will advance to the WCWS next week in Oklahoma City.
“This is exactly what I wanted, exactly what I expected,” Hoover said. “I couldn’t write it out any more perfect than what’s going on right now.”
Hoover was the consensus national prep player of the year two years ago, compiling a 0.15 ERA and averaging more than two strikeouts per inning as her D.W. Daniel High School team won the South Carolina Class 3A state championship.
But her first season at Stanford didn’t go nearly as smoothly. Hoover suffered a stress fracture to a rib in fall practice, though the injury wasn’t diagnosed and she wasn’t sidelined until she had made five starts in the regular season.
Apparently the injury was caused by the sheer force of Hoover’s delivery. Her 6-foot-2 frame generates pitches up to 70-plus mph.
Stanford as a whole had a disappointing season as well, failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years. When coach John Rittman resigned, Hoover realized she needed to go elsewhere if she wanted a chance to get to the WCWS right away.
“Obviously last year didn’t end the way she wanted it to with Stanford,” catcher Kellsi Kloss said.
Hoover went home at the end of the spring semester and contemplated her future.
“I realized I wanted to be somewhere else, and LSU was the first and only place I was interested in,” she said.
Hoover was aware of Tigers coach Beth Torina’s reputation as one of the best pitching coaches in the country.
“I knew what she was about, and I knew how much she knew about pitching,” Hoover said.
The two had crossed paths when Hoover was an eighth-grader and attended a pitching camp in Alabama at which Torina spoke.
“She called me ‘crazy legs,’ and she called me that in one of the first few weeks that I was here, too,” Hoover said. “I clearly still don’t have control of my lower body, but I just knew that I needed to be changed a lot in pitching, and I knew she could help. That’s a really big reason why I’m here.”
Hoover’s “crazy legs” were a minor concern to Torina, who said Hoover is the hardest thrower she has been around. The coach said “there’s not an adjective that describes” the feeling she had when Hoover committed.
“We knew it was a possible program-changing moment with how talented she is and what she’s done in her career,” Torina said. “She’s a special player, and she’s proven to be all she was made out to be.”
As soon as Hoover arrived, Torina went to work on her mechanics.
“I literally got here and didn’t even know how to wind up,” Hoover said. “I was like, ‘I can throw pretty hard on a walk through, I have pretty good rise and spin and that’s about it.’ So we kind of started from there, and I don’t have that many pitches and I’m still working. I’m still a 20-year-old freshman just working to get better.”
Hoover said it’s still evident in bullpen sessions that she’s “not nearly as polished” as sophomores Baylee Corbello and Kelsee Selman.
“I think I’m still very, very underdeveloped,” Hoover said.
Torina said Hoover needed to polish some pitches after being away from game competition for a while, but she “definitely brought a lot to the table.”
Kloss said Hoover’s focus is one of her strengths, because it doesn’t change whether she’s pitching in a midweek game against an unranked opponent or pitching in a regional — as she did last week in going 2-1 with a save and compiling a 0.40 ERA in 17.1 innings over four appearances.
“There’s such a different presence when Carley’s on the mound,” Kloss said. “You just feel an aura across the whole entire stadium. You just know Carley is going to do whatever she can to win a ballgame.
“It’s so exciting when she steps on the mound. You just know something big is going to happen.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.