When the LSU softball team roared back to win the NCAA tournament’s Baton Rouge regional last weekend, coach Beth Torina said “a sleeping giant has been awoken.”
That giant was wide awake for the start of the super regional against Arizona on Saturday at Tiger Park.
The Tigers parlayed timely hits with wildness from Wildcats pitchers to score four runs in the bottom of the first. They blended a dominant pitching performance from Carley Hoover with a mostly top-notch defensive effort led by right fielder Bailey Landry, who also hit a two-run homer that lifted LSU over the run-rule threshold in an 8-0, five-inning victory.
“I thought we played great on all cylinders,” Torina said. “The offense was amazing. We had a great performance on the mound. We played really solid defense except for one mistake. Ultimately that’s the team we’re capable of being.”
That’s the team they were for most of the season — the one that won its first 25 games, the one that was ranked No. 1 in the country for a total of six weeks, the one that earned a No. 5 national seed.
When a backloaded Southeastern Conference schedule and the inevitable ebbs in a 50-plus-game regular-season schedule contrived to add losses at a faster rate in April and May than they had come in February and March, it was easy to forget just how good this team has been.
It was especially easy to forget when LSU lost its second game in the regional and had to win three consecutive elimination games to keep the season going. Two of those games went to extra innings, including the final one in which the Tigers were down to their final two outs of the season before battling back.
But Saturday turned into turn-back-the-clock day as LSU regained its earlier form and Tiger Park was transformed back into the rollicking site of 30 wins in the first 30 games this season, instead of the uneasy site where the Tigers had lost five times in 11 tries before the super regional.
The crowd was the largest to witness a postseason game at Tiger Park and came for the first super regional game played there.
They witnessed a heck of a warm-up act for the Bayou Country Superfest at Tiger Stadium and even had time to walk over and catch the nightcap thanks to the efficiency of LSU’s win.
Wildcats starting pitcher Trish Parks admitted that she “let the surroundings get to me” as she contributed four walks and a wild pitch to the LSU cause in the first.
Hoover had started the top half with two walks, but she made it clear: “I wasn’t nervous.”
She got the next three Arizona hitters in the first. She allowed an infield single to start the second, but one out later Landry made a running catch in foul territory, turned and gunned down Mandie Perez trying to take second.
Hoover pitched around the single defensive blemish when Sydney Bourg dropped a throw at first, letting the leadoff batter reach in the third.
With one out in the fourth, Hoover issued her only walk after the first inning, but it didn’t matter when Landry tracked down a drive to deep right by Perez.
Hoover ran to back up third because “I thought I had given up a triple.” When she mentioned that in the dugout after the inning, Landry quipped, “No, you just gave up an out.”
Three outs later — the last coming on Sahvanna Jaquish’s acrobatic snag of a foul pop at the railing of the LSU dugout — the Tigers were one win from the Women’s College World Series.
Torina’s message was simple: “This series is definitely far from over.”
She’s right, of course.
Torina and the players remember last weekend, when an opening-game run-rule victory was followed by a loss that put LSU in a hole.
But then came the wakeup call — and this doesn’t look like a team that needs another.