HARRISONBURG, Va. — The outcome of the NCAA softball tournament’s Harrisonburg super regional was up in the air until the final pitch of the best-of-three series.
It wasn’t until LSU’s Allie Walljasper struck out James Madison cleanup hitter Jailyn Ford with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning that the Tigers had secured a 3-2 victory, giving them a two-game sweep Saturday and a return trip to the Women’s College World Series.
The last-out dramatics concluded a day that began with the Tigers (50-16) beating the Dukes (50-6) 2-0 in the series’ second game, giving JMU its first loss of the season in a game played at its Veterans Memorial Park.
But, LSU catcher Kellsi Kloss said, the Tigers knew all along how the series would end up, despite a 3-2 loss in Friday’s opener.
“The entire day, there was no doubt in any of our minds that we were going to get it done,” said Kloss, who homered in the first game and singled home the first run in the second game. “We knew, as soon as won game one, we were winning game two. We had the momentum, and we talked about how they had their backs against the wall. They were playing not to lose, and we told ourselves we were playing to win — and that’s exactly what we did.”
Walljasper threw a five-hit shutout in Saturday’s opener and got her second save of the season by throwing three scoreless innings in relief of freshman Sydney Smith (13-3) in the decisive game.
“I can’t say enough about Allie Walljasper,” coach Beth Torina said. “From the time she threw her first pitch here as a freshman (last season), she has had that same look on her face and that same demeanor about her. She’s just a winner.”
Walljasper entered the second game after Smith allowed a leadoff single in the bottom of the fifth with the Tigers holding a 3-1 lead. A hit batsman, a wild pitch and an error by third baseman Bianka Bell sent home a run.
LSU intentionally walked Megan Good, who had homered three times in the super regional, to load the bases and push the potential go-ahead run into scoring position. The Tigers got out of it when Ford popped out to Bell.
After a 1-2-3 sixth, Walljasper allowed a leadoff walk in the seventh and a two-out single in which Hannah Hayes beat Elyse Thornhill’s throw to third and Morgan Tolle took second on the throw. Again Torina intentionally walked Good, who homered twice Friday and tied the finale with a homer off Smith in the fourth inning.
“She wasn’t getting another chance against us,” Torina said.
Instead it was left to Ford, who had popped out to end the threat in the fifth. Walljasper got her swinging on a 2-2 drop pitch.
“It’s the big moments that are to die for, and I couldn’t ask anything more from my teammates,” Walljasper said. “They were behind me the whole entire time and telling me to stay calm and to do what I do.”
LSU broke a 1-1 tie in the decisive game when Ford, who started for JMU, ran into control problems in the fifth inning. She walked Emily Griggs and Sandra Simmons with one out.
Bailey Landry, who had been 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in the super regional, singled to center, and Griggs continued home when center fielder Kassie Brammer misplayed the ball for an error.
A walk to Bianka Bell loaded the bases, and Good relieved Ford. Sahvanna Jaquish hit a drive that Brammer caught in front of the wall in center for a sacrifice fly that gave the Tigers a 3-1 lead.
The Dukes got within one and twice loaded the bases but couldn’t get a hit off Walljasper when they needed it most.
“Both teams battled and battled and battled,” JMU coach Mickey Dean said.
In the end, LSU was headed to the WCWS for the third time in Torina’s five seasons.
“In our fight song, they call us the Fighting Tigers, and I feel like that’s something we’ve really taken on as a team,” Torina said as she was flanked by Walljasper, Smith and Kloss. “I’ve got three kids here, but it was a total team effort all day today.
“I think that’s what makes me the most proud: Everybody contributed — even the kids on the bench and in the dugout had a lot of heart and energy. It was a total team effort today to get us to where we’re at.”