STARKVILLE, Miss. — The LSU softball team followed three days of championship-caliber play with a flawed performance in a 7-1 loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Saturday.
The team’s first defeat against an SEC opponent in 12 games and just its second loss in its past 17 games overall completed an eight-day stretch in which LSU won two of three against No. 11 Washington and defeated No. 16 Texas A&M, No. 11 Kentucky and No. 10 Tennessee before losing to No. 8 Auburn.
The players stood in front of the first-base dugout at Nusz Park and watched Auburn accept its championship trophy, then it was off to an adjacent field for an unusually lengthy and sometimes animated postgame talk from coach Beth Torina.
The game had been over for nearly an hour when Torina delivered to the media the message that she had given her players in great detail.
“We are fighting against the best of the best and played really well against them,” Torina said. “That cannot be forgotten. They needed to be reminded that, when you are playing a schedule like that, you will not win out. It is next to impossible. I wanted to make sure we were still confident, because we have every right to be.”
LSU, 45-15 after losing in its first SEC tournament title-game appearance since 2010, will learn the details of its NCAA tournament positioning Sunday night. LSU all but officially played itself into position to host a regional next weekend at Tiger Park.
Auburn (49-9), which beat No. 4 Alabama in a rain-delayed quarterfinal Friday morning and No. 1 Florida in a semifinal game just hours later, won the tournament championship for the second consecutive season and likely solidified a top-eight national seed.
“I think there was a statement made,” Auburn coach Clint Myers said. “I think the committee will recognize that. I believe we’re a top-eight team. Our play this weekend showed that we were.”
LSU started freshman right-hander Sydney Smith (12-3), and she didn’t complete two innings, though the four runs against her were all unearned. Carley Hoover relieved and made her fourth appearance in the tournament before giving way to Allie Walljasper.
Auburn starter Makayla Martin (12-3) allowed five hits and one run in five innings, and Rachael Walters threw two hitless innings to finish.
“We hit a lot balls hard, but straight at people,” said shortstop Amber Serrett, who had one of LSU’s hits and scored its only run. “Those are just some breaks that we didn’t get, but (Martin) did a great job of keeping us off balance.”
LSU began the tournament with its first streak of three errorless games this season, but that streak ended dramatically in the second inning.
Auburn loaded the bases with one out against Smith before Tiffany Howard hit a routine grounder toward second baseman Constance Quinn, who appeared distracted as Victoria Draper passed her on her way to second base. Quinn mishandled the grounder, and her throw to first was too late to get Howard as a run scored.
Tournament MVP Emily Carosone followed with a two-run single to right, and Howard scored when right fielder Bailey Landry’s throw got past home plate for another error.
“We definitely cannot give an offense that swings like that extra opportunities at the plate,” Torina said.
Hoover, who got the win in each of LSU’s three tournament victories, relieved Smith and got the next hitter to keep the score 4-0.
LSU’s scored its run in the third when Serrett singled and came around on Emily Griggs’ groundout and two wild pitches by Martin.
Hoover allowed a run on three consecutive singles with one out in the fifth and, an inning later, Howard, a senior outfielder, hit a two-run homer, her first in 375 career at-bats.
Now it’s on to the NCAA tournament for both teams.
“I’m excited about what’s next for this team and this program,” Torina said. “I’m excited to find out what type of draw we will get, and I’m excited about what this team can do in the postseason.”