The Texas Southern softball team won’t simply roll over against No. 5 LSU when the programs meet Friday in the NCAA softball regional at Tiger Park.
At least that’s the opinion of the man who handed the Lady Tigers their first loss in a Southwestern Athletic Conference series in more than four seasons.
“If you asked me to pick a team to do well in a regional, really be a big surprise out of our conference ... my money would be on Texas Southern,” Southern coach John Garris said.
While Southern never met LSU this season, Garris is familiar with two-time reigning SWAC champion Texas Southern and its coach, Worley Barker.
Southern defeated the Lady Tigers twice during the regular season, including both games of a doubleheader, by a combined score of 11-5. Garris and Barker were also named 2015 Co-SWAC Coaches of the Year.
Texas Southern enters the Baton Rouge Regional having won 11 of its last 12 outings, the only blemish a 3-2 loss to Houston Baptist. The Lady Tigers capped off season with a 9-0 route of Alabama State in the SWAC Championship.
Garris said his team was only able to beat Texas Southern by having a perfect mixture of confidence and concern when they played, whereas a team like LSU could come into the game overconfident.
“(Texas Southern is) playing their very best ball at the tail end of the season and during the (SWAC) tournament,” Garris said. “I think they’re well-coached and well-prepared across the board. They’re very balanced across the board.”
While Garris said Texas Southern’s effectiveness comes form its balanced roster, it’s hard to ignore someone like senior shortstop Thomasina Garza, who took both Player of the Year and Hitter of the Year honors in the SWAC after her .445 batting average put her at No. 30 in the country.
Garza wasn’t alone on the All-SWAC first team; senior pitcher Sammantha Jimenez joined her as well. Senior first baseman Brianna Parker was named to the second team along with junior pitcher Madison Staton.
But it isn’t players like Garza or Jimenez who are going to give Texas Southern a shot at the upset — it’s the unsung heroes of the program.
“Garza clearly is a great player for them, but you also have a situation where they are very balanced throughout the whole team,” Garris said. “There’s not a player on their team who (isn’t going to contribute). They don’t have kids who aren’t going to compete.”
However, Garris isn’t foolish enough to think the Lady Tigers are going to cruise past a team that hasn’t ranked outside of the top 10 since February. He acknowledges that Texas Southern will have its hands full if it aims to win the program’s first game in an NCAA regional.
“I can’t imagine any time under (LSU coach Beth Torina’s) regime that LSU won’t play up to their potential,” Garris said. “If you were to ask me the same thing about Arizona State under Craig Nicholson I would say the same thing. If you were to ask me about Nebraska under Rhonda Revelle, they’re going to be prepared.
“This is a really tough draw for Texas Southern.”