The No. 4 LSU softball team won’t have to travel far — roughly a four-hour drive north to Ruston — for its first true road game of the season.
But the Tigers know full well the perils of playing away from home.
“Anywhere we go that’s an away game, they’re going to bring their biggest crowd. They’re going to be sold out every single game, and we know that,” senior catcher Kellsi Kloss said Sunday. “(The freshmen are) going to need to know that we’re not going to have people in purple and gold yelling, ‘Go Tigers.’ We’re going to have people yelling at us hoping that we lose.”
After playing 21 of their first 26 games within the friendly confines of Tiger Park, the Tigers (23-3) are set for a midweek rematch with Louisiana Tech at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Lady Techster Softball Complex.
LSU played its five non-home games during the second weekend of the season at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, California. Though it faced local schools UC-Santa Barbara and UCLA, those contests counted as neutral-site affairs.
“The freshmen got a little bit of a taste of (playing on the road) when we went to California,” Kloss said. “But that’s not a true away game.”
On top of playing in their first truly hostile environment all season, the Tigers will have their hands full with the revenge-minded Lady Techsters (15-5).
The teams squared off March 5 at the LSU Invitational, and Tech almost came away with an upset. LSU used a seven-run rally over the fifth and sixth innings to erase a 6-2 deficit, and sophomore ace Carley Hoover kept her team in striking distance with 3.2 relief innings of one-hit softball.
Having already narrowly escaped the Lady Techsters once this season, LSU coach Beth Torina doesn’t expect her players to have any trouble staying mentally dialed in Tuesday.
“I think our team understands how talented (Tech is) and that they need to show up,” she said. “Our team will understand the level of play they have to play on Tuesday night.”
The Tigers discovered a perfect formula for winning in Games 1 and 3 of their weekend series against No. 6 Alabama, taking those contests by a combined score of 14-3. Hoover pitched complete games while her offense jumped on Tide ace Alexis Osorio for 10 hits in both outings.
LSU also found a good formula for losing.
Sloppy fielding led to a 10-3 defeat in Game 2. Alabama capitalized on six Tiger errors, most notably during its five-run fifth inning that featured four fielding miscues.
“Definitely clean up our defense,” senior infielder Bianka Bell said of the team’s priorities heading into the midweek clash. “(Tech is) a good team. They give us a game every time we play them. We’re going to have to battle through their fans and being at their place.”
Such mistakes nearly cost LSU in its first meeting with the Lady Techsters, who scored three runs as a direct result of two errors.
Tech hasn’t played a game since then. Severe rainfall and flooding in Texas and Louisiana forced the team to postpone its midweek game at Stephen F. Austin and cancel its Conference USA opening series against Western Kentucky.
Whether the Lady Techsters are out for revenge or not, playing a road game in itself will be a test for the Tigers. But LSU needs to get acclimated to life away from home — a weekend series at No. 12 Texas A&M awaits.
“Going on the road to Tech then going on the road to Texas A&M, it’s a really tough place to play and a tough atmosphere there,” Torina said. “They get really good crowds, and their fans are really into it. I think it’ll be a tough week for us, but hopefully we can play some good softball and be up to the challenge.”
Bell receives SEC honor
Bell chuckled as she described the pitch she lifted out of Tiger Park as “fat.”
That home run helped LSU secure Sunday’s win and helped the senior earn Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors. She boasted a 1.000 slugging percentage and a .579 on-base percentage as the Tigers took the series from Alabama and won their midweek doubleheader against Longwood.
Bell shined against the Tide, going 5-for-10 at the plate with five RBIs and two home runs, both off Osorio.