Missed opportunities costly in LSU softball’s losses to Florida _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU shortstop Amber Serrett (17) tosses the ball to third baseman Bianka Bell to tag Florida right fielder Kayli Kvistad (21) out at third in the second inning of the second game of a doubleheader, Friday, March 25, 2016, at LSU's Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, La.

Emily Griggs raced around third base, poised to draw first blood in the opening inning of the No. 7 LSU softball team’s series against No. 1 Florida.

A single up the middle by catcher Sahvanna Jaquish sent Griggs sprinting from second base, but the throw reached home well before the speedy center fielder. The successful tag stymied the Tigers’ scoring threat and quieted the raucous Tiger Park crowd.

LSU failed to take advantage of that opportunity and the slew of those that came after in losing a pair of 3-0 games to the Gators (32-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) in the teams’ doubleheader Friday night.

The Tigers (26-7, 3-5 SEC) hit 2-for-13 with runners on and 2-of-8 with runners in scoring position in both games, stranding 18 total baserunners. LSU coach Beth Torina and her players chalked up the futility at the plate to Florida’s pitching staff, which entered the series with a Division I-best 0.87 ERA.

“They were just putting the ball in a great spot,” third baseman Bianka Bell said. “They’re one of the best pitching staffs in the country. They did a good job knowing where to throw us and putting the ball in a spot that would make them effective. They had us on our toes a lot.”

Griggs was one of two runners thrown out at home on a night when the Tigers were held scoreless for 16 innings. Torina didn’t regret sending waving either runner around third base.

“They were chances we needed to take, considering the numbers that those (Florida) pitchers allow,” Torina said. “I think we have to push it wherever we can. I’m glad we took the chances.”

Despite losing its first-inning momentum on the play at home, LSU got right back in business in the next inning. Florida righty Aleshia Ocasio issued consecutive walks before a one-out fielder’s choice moved the runners into scoring position.

But first baseman Sandra Simmons grounded out to third, squandering another chance to score early runs.

Ocasio cruised until the fifth inning, when the Tigers were finally on the verge of a breakthrough. Freshman shortstop Amber Serrett belted a leadoff, stand-up double before junior right fielder Bailey Landry moved her to third base with a one-out single.

The opportunity, however, evaporated just like the ones before it — Griggs struck out swinging, and Bell hit another weak grounder to third.

“They played really good defense,” Bell said. “They made all the necessary plays. … They just found ways to get out of the inning every time we got a rally going.”

LSU managed a single in each of the final two innings, only for them to be erased by a double play and a strikeout.

That theme carried over into the nightcap.

Jaquish stepped to the plate with two runners in scoring position in the third inning only to ground out to third base. Things got worse one inning later when Landry’s two-out strikeout left the bases loaded.

“Good pitchers make good pitches in big moments,” Torina said. “When the pressure gets on and they get runners on base, they stepped up and they made big pitches.”

Torina held up the next runner rounding third — this time it was second baseman Constance Quinn on Thornhill’s blooper into shallow right. A swinging bunt from Simmons moved Thornhill to third, but Landry again ended the inning with a strikeout, her fifth of the night.

Two one-out walks gave LSU a game-winning opportunity in the seventh, but Ocasio relieved Gourley and induced Kellsi Kloss’ groundout into the inning-ending double play.

Ocasio retired the Tigers in order over the final two frames while second baseman Nicole DeWitt’s three-run homer in the ninth clinched the series for the Gators. LSU placed a runner on base in 12 of 16 innings but came away with nothing to show for it.

“You have to give Florida more credit on how they deal with pressure situations more than you have to criticize the way we didn’t get it done in those situations,” Kloss said. “Obviously, the big hit has to come, but I think Florida just does a really good job of bearing down and getting the outs when they need to.

“That’s what a really good team does. That’s why they’re the two-time defending national champions.”