LSU is about to hit softball’s biggest stage ... without Juanita the Rallyfish _lowres

LSU's Kellsi Kloss, left, runs towards home plate where her teammates cheer for her following her home run in the third inning against Auburn in the NCAA Women's College World Series softball tournament in Oklahoma City, Thursday, May 28, 2015. LSU won 6-1. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) ORG XMIT: OKSO116

Sandra Simmons still remembers the first time she ventured into ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

The venue that has hosted the Women’s College World Series for the past 25 years was the site of a travel ball tournament Simmons’ team, the SoCal Firecrackers, attended several years ago.

LSU’s senior first baseman recalled the thrill of seeing her name on the stadium’s scoreboard for the first time, but she noted a difference about the park when it came to the WCWS.

“I just remember watching it on TV and looking at these players and thinking how big, how grown they were,” Simmons said Tuesday before the Tigers departed for the WCWS. “It’s so crazy to think this is us now.”

Though most members of LSU’s roster have been on this stage before, the coming week represents a lifelong dream for all of them. The No. 10 seed Tigers are making their second straight WCWS appearance, starting with a rematch against No. 2 seed Michigan at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Oklahoma City.

That was the destination for sophomore center fielder Emily Griggs to begin almost every summer of her youth. She and her family made the two-hour drive from hometown of Wichita, Kansas, to watch the WCWS.

“Growing up and watching the big girls playing at the World Series, and I’m one of the big girls now, I guess,” Griggs said. “So it’s just a dream come true for all of us. It’s what you dream of when you first start playing.”

Griggs was fortunate enough to attend the event in person, but other players, like sophomore pitcher Carley Hoover, had to settle for watching the WCWS on TV every year.

Senior catcher Kellsi Kloss said she began keeping tabs on the event once she was 10 or 11. A travel-ball teammate of Simmons, Kloss also drew inspiration from playing in ASA Hall of Fame Stadium all those years ago.

“I remember telling myself I want to be them and want to be where they are. ... I told myself, ‘I want to play here in college,’ ” she said. “And the fact that I’m doing this for the second time, that’s so special to me.”

Juanita staying home

LSU is leaving behind one of last year’s WCWS heroes.

Players and coaches boarded the team bus Tuesday without Juanita the Rallyfish, who went viral during the Tigers’ run to a third-place finish last season. The team housed the GloFish in a portable tank in its ASA Hall of Fame Stadium dugout after buying her at a local Walmart during its stay in Oklahoma City.

But Juanita hasn’t appeared in LSU’s dugout once this season, staying instead in a tank that’s built into the wall of the coaches’ office in Tiger Park.

The NCAA two weeks ago ensured that trend would continue when it announced a crackdown on in-game props and costumes.

“Juanita is going to stay here, and someone is going to have to fish-sit her, I guess,” Kloss said. But she’ll be with us in spirit.”

The Tigers, however, displayed Choco and Lil Rally — two other non-equipment props — around their dugout during last weekend’s super regional at No. 7 seed James Madison. Senior infielder Bianka Bell, who owns the bottle holder known as Lil Rally, boarded the bus cradling the prop.

A reporter suggested Juanita’s caretaker should turn on the TV in the coaches’ office for “some good mojo” during LSU’s WCWS games, prompting a laugh from Kloss.

“That’d be great,” she said. “I don’t know who’ll get that job, but someone has to do it. We can’t just leave her for a week.”