East: LSU softball team relies on ‘Power of One’ _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- LSU's Sandra Simmons (3) is smothered by her team mates after hitting a two-run home run in the second inning of LSU's 10-5 victory over Arizona in the NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional Sunday in LSU's Tiger Park.

The LSU softball team clinched a berth in the Women’s College World Series the same way it has authored this entire historic season.

As soon as the Tigers completed a sweep of Arizona in the Baton Rouge super regional with a 10-5 victory Sunday at Tiger Park they fittingly donned T-shirts inscribed with this year’s motto: “The Power of One.”

This was a team that pulled together as one as it compiled a laundry list of firsts: winning its first 25 games, ascending to the top of the polls for the first time, and earning the right to host a super regional for the first time. It did all of that the same way it disposed of one of the premier programs in college softball: with a deep and unrelenting cast overwhelming the opposition.

“This team truly understands the team concept,” said Beth Torina, who is as much choreographer as coach. “There are never any hard feelings or selfishness with this group.

“If we ask them to hit in the three hole or pitch or sit in the dugout and cheer, they’re going to do it to the absolute best of their ability, and they’ve done it all year long. That’s really the reason why we’re playing in this final week of the year.”

They’re off to Oklahoma City for the fourth time in school history and first time since Torina’s first season in 2012.

There wasn’t a player who set foot on the field who didn’t contribute in a meaningful way during the two days.

Sunday’s biggest star was first baseman Sandra Simmons, an all-Southeastern Conference defensive player who was 3-for-3 with a homer, a triple, five runs batted in and three runs scored.

“Everything was done through teammates, through positive energy, through encouragement,” Simmons said, “just knowing that we were going to win this game.”

That was a message that was sent early as the Tigers scored four runs in the first inning for the second consecutive game, this time as the visiting team.

After Bailey Landry, who was Saturday’s star with a two-run homer and three outstanding defensive plays, reached on a one-out bunt, Wildcats starter Michelle Floyd was careful with the middle of the order, which had driven in four runs Saturday.

She walked Bianka Bell and Sahvanna Jaquish before getting Kellsi Kloss on a pop-up. But Simmons singled home two runs, and Constance Quinn doubled home two.

No. 6 hitter Simmons and No. 7 Quinn combined to drive in eight runs, six of which came with two outs. It was the latest in a season-long series of examples that LSU’s lineup didn’t feature any respite for opposing pitchers.

“I think it’s been a one-through-nine lineup all season long,” Torina said “We have kids that can bunt, kids that can slap, kids that can hit for power.”

Leadoff hitter A.J. Andrews had two hits, two stolen bases and scored a run. Bell had a hit, an RBI and a run. And Jaquish had a hit and scored two runs as the middle of the order chipped in. Kloss didn’t have a hit, but it was her two-run single in the first inning Saturday that set the tone for the weekend, along with Carley Hoover’s one-hitter.

Sydney Bourg had a hit and a walk, and Emily Griggs tracked down two long fly balls, including the game-ending out.

When the Tigers put up two exclamation-point runs in the top of the seventh, pinch hitter Dylan Supak was in the middle of the rally with an RBI single. Supak, one of three Tigers to play in LSU’s last WCWS as freshmen in 2012, embodied the contributing-when-called-upon knack of this team.

After Hoover finished a 2.2-inning stint of scoreless relief behind Allie Walljasper, who pitched solidly for 4.1 innings, the Tigers began celebrating.

It culminated in a victory lap with players high-fiving fans from the record crowd, who ringed the stadium. It was a scene that has played out so many times with the LSU baseball team just a short walk away at Alex Box Stadium.

But this time it was Tiger Park, which opened in 2009, being christened.

Former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman noted the significance of the program prevailing in its first home super regional.

“Usually there’s an evolutionary period,” Bertman said. “But Yvette built this place for this reason.”

Yvette, of course is Yvette Girouard, who took LSU to its first two WCWS in 2001 and 2004. She and Torina embraced on the field afterward.

“Coach Girouard told me all week that she went in Years 1 and 4 also,” Torina said. “So it was meant to be that I would go in my first and fourth year at LSU.”