LSU softball coach Beth Torina said if someone had asked her beforehand who she wanted to play in the Southeastern Conference tournament, she would have replied “someone who’s not in the SEC.”
“Every team in this tournament is so talented, it’s unbelievable,” Torina said. “There is not an easy road here to get into the championship game.”
The No. 4 seed Tigers couldn’t get out of the quarterfinals, despite playing at Tiger Park, as No. 5 seed Tennessee knocked them out of the tourney with a 7-5 win Thursday.
LSU won’t learn the details of its place in the NCAA tournament bracket until Sunday night, but Torina already likes what she does know about the Tigers’ next challenge.
“There’s not going to be a team from the SEC in the tournament that we’re going to be playing in next week,” she said. “So I think that’s going to be a nice thing for us.”
The NCAA doesn’t allow multiple teams from the same conference to be placed in the same regional, so LSU gets a break from the gantlet it has run for the last two months.
The loss to Tennessee dropped the Tigers to 15-11 against SEC opponents. They lost their last two regular-season series at Missouri and at home against Auburn and have dropped six of their last eight games against conference opponents.
LSU has the No. 2 RPI in the country, and its most recent losses have come against the teams with RPIs ranked No. 4 (Auburn), No. 9 Missouri and No. 11 (Tennessee).
“We played the best of the best here at the end,” Torina said. “I think we’ve got to give our competition some credit. I still think we have had some great games against some really tough competition. It’s tough to stay mentally confident when you’re playing in a league like this. I think day in and day out battling and doing everything you have to do to compete in this league takes a toll on you.”
Shortstop Bianka Bell agreed.
“I guess we’re just tired,” she said. “We’ve been pressing too much and trying to do too much. This little break that we’re going to have coming into regionals, we’ve got to do a lot of soul searching and just pound it out for the rest of the season.”
After playing 55 games, LSU is potentially just five wins from reaching the Women’s College World Series. But it has been a while since it has looked like the team that set school records by winning its first 25 games and being ranked No. 1 in the country.
“Being No. 1, we were very excited, and it was something new for our program,” outfielder Emily Griggs said. “We made school history, which is amazing, so I think that definitely brought us up more and then we played a couple of series where we lost. So I think after this loss we’re going to get back on our feet. It’s the postseason so we have to do what we have to do.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they can’t zero in on one area that has been the cause of the dropoff. Torina said the team played well against Tennessee except for the pitching, which allowed three home runs and two three-run rallies after the team had taken leads.
But at other times, the defense has made things difficult for the pitching and the hitting has been sporadic recently. The flip side of that is LSU has proved capable of being a complete team, so even though there are multiple issues to address, the Tigers have demonstrated an ability to do better in each area.
Torina noted that the SEC grind and postseason competition are new to several key players. Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper, both of whom struggled against Tennessee and have been the most frequently used pitchers, are freshmen. Griggs is the starting left fielder, and fellow freshman Sydney Bourg recently moved into the starting lineup at second base.
“We still have a lot of young kids competing for us that have not been through this,” Torina said. “So I think that’s something that they have to learn, and I know that they will, and I know that they will continue to compete the rest of the season.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.