HARRISONBURG, Va. — LSU softball coach Beth Torina likes to point out that her team’s nickname is the Fighting Tigers.
It has been worth mentioning as her team has demonstrated an ability to fight back during challenging situations.
They overcame a 5-11 start in Southeastern Conference play to finish 13-11 in the league and had won 18 of 20 games heading into their 3-2 loss to James Madison in their NCAA tournament super regional opener Friday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park.
Five times late in the season, the Tigers overcame a last-inning deficit to win. Now they must beat the Dukes twice Saturday to extend their season and return to the Women’s College World Series.
“We work all year for this moment,” Torina said. “We pushed them through the fall; we have a great strength and conditioning coach; we’ve worked hard in practice. They’re in shape. They’re ready to do this.
“They’ve been through adversity all season long, and they’ve been able to fight back through it, so I have no doubt (Saturday) will be just what they’ve done all season long.”
Hoover lacking ‘best stuff’
Tigers starting pitcher Carley Hoover went the distance but got the loss after allowing two solo home runs and a decisive run in the bottom of the seventh. She gave up eight hits and five walks, striking out seven.
“I don’t think I had my best stuff today,” Hoover said. “And if that’s the worst stuff I can throw out there, then I think we have a lot more softball to play so I’m excited.”
Hoover wasn’t comfortable with the footing on the front edge of the circle in the early part of Friday’s game.
She asked the grounds crew to try to firm up the area during the bottom of the first and before the start of the bottom of the second and fourth.
“Every time I landed, I basically crushed the field,” she said. “The field crew fixed it.”
Plenty of pitchers left
Torina said Hoover will be ready to go Saturday and she won’t hesitate to use her, though she also has Allie Walljasper and Sydney Smith available.
“I’m confident in our pitching staff,” Torina said. “I think it’s deeper than what they have. I feel good about that. I think we have one more arm that they don’t have.”
The Dukes lean almost exclusively on senior left-hander Jailyn Ford, who started Friday and pitched three innings before injuring her non-throwing shoulder on a slide, and sophomore right-hander Megan Good, who got the win after pitching the final four innings.
“We know what they have now,” said outfielder Sandra Simmons, who homered for the only hit off Good. “Even though we saw it through film, we actually saw it live, and we were able to see what their spin did live and see what they did location-wise and speed-wise.”
Dukes soak in record crowd
JMU added temporary seating to accommodate a demand to see the Dukes play in a super regional for the first time.
A park that has a permanent capacity of 625 held 2,331, the largest crowd in school history.
“What a great atmosphere — unbelievable,” Dukes coach Mickey Dean said. “And what a great game.”
The in-park seating was full, including a bunch of gold-clad LSU fans behind the first-base dugout, and hundreds more sat on a hill behind the outfield fence.
“We took 10 minutes before we even started doing anything outside,” Dean said. “I told them to take it in, then we’re going to take a deep breath and then we’re going to go play ball.”