At some point during LSU’s Women’s College World Series opener against Auburn on Thursday, coach Beth Torina will step in front of the dugout, put on a headset and do a perfunctory interview with the ESPN announcers.
The traditional coach speak, though, figures to be livened up for a nationwide audience when a cluster of Torina’s players swarm behind her, sporting a variety of masks and hats while photo-bombing their head coach.
This team gives new meaning to the term “putting on your game face,” and the cast of characters features about as many possibilities as Torina has when she fills out her lineup card.
Rally hats, which aren’t just worn for the Torina interviews, include a Dr. Seuss “The Cat in the Hat” hat, Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat and some contraption made out of a telephone.
The masks feature various Avenger comic-book characters, including the recently added Guy Fawkes mask from “V for Vendetta” (“really creepy,” shortstop Bianka Bell says); a Tiger mask (“really scary,” catcher Kellsi Kloss says); and a horse mask worn by pitcher Kelsee Selman, whose nickname is “Big Ole Horse.”
“They are a crazy group of people,” Bell said. “But it just makes the game more fun.”
Bell said she’ll go back and review taped broadcasts of games to see what dugout shenanigans might have caught the director’s eye while she was busy fielding, hitting and running the bases.
“That’s just what LSU softball is,” outfielder A.J. Andrews said. “We’re going to the World Series, and we’re just trying to jot down memories and jot down the fun. I don’t think any team does it better than us. At the end of the year, regardless of whether we win the World Series or not, I think the rally hats and the rally costumes are something we’re really going to be known for — and I think that’s really cool.”
Pitcher Carley Hoover said she’ll sometimes turn her visor backward as a rally cap, but when she’s pitching, as she figures to be Thursday, “I’ve just got to stay in the zone a little more.”
Therein lies the key to the high jinks: to use them to relieve pressure without diminishing focus.
“We don’t lose focus at all while we’re doing that stuff,” Kloss said. “In the heat of the moment, it’s nice to take a step back and realize that this is still a game and we’re still having fun. We play so much better when we’re loose like that. I think (Torina) would agree with that. We play better when we’re not pressing. That’s a way to help us not press so much.”
Third baseman Sahvanna Jaquish referred to the antics as “a circus act.”
“There are props, and it gets us all fired up for no reason,” she said. “Someone’s wearing a monkey mask, and it just makes me want to hit the ball. And that doesn’t make any sense to other people, but for us, it’s just staying loose and having great chemistry and playing the game that we love.”
Jaquish was asked whether Torina has ever gotten upset with the players for frolicking behind her during interviews.
“Absolutely not,” Jaquish said ... before busting her coach. “She’s the one who buys us the masks. So if she doesn’t like it, why is she going to the dollar store and buying us all these props? She loves it.”
How about it, Coach?
“That’s completely false,” Torina said through a wry smile. “Absolutely false — I did not. Maybe someone on our staff did, but me personally? Completely false.”
But seriously, folks ...
“I think they’re a really relaxed group,” Torina said. “I think they enjoy the game. I think they enjoy each other. It’s all a part of it. I enjoy letting them have personalities. I think it’s nice to have kids bring different personalities to the table.
“That’s what truly makes a team, and I think the team concept is such a fun thing. I can’t imagine ever not being a part of a team and what that means and what that represents. It’s so cool.”
Still, Torina’s reaction to the mirth-making can vary.
“It depends,” she said, “on whether we’re winning or losing.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.