OKLAHOMA CITY — It took 367 days, but the LSU softball team finally got a rematch with Michigan.
It’s not exactly the one the Tigers envisioned, but it’ll do just fine.
Tenth-seeded LSU faces the second-seeded Wolverines in their World Series opener at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in ASA Hall of Fame Stadium (ESPN). The Tigers’ first game in this Women’s College World Series is against the team that defeated them 6-3 in their last game in last year’s WCWS.
LSU fought its way through the losers’ bracket and needed to win that game to force a winner-take-all rematch to determine who would face Florida in the championships series.
But Michigan stayed undefeated, and the Tigers were at home when Florida beat Michigan for its second consecutive WCWS title.
“It’s funny how the cards fell,” LSU outfielder Bailey Landry said Wednesday. “It’s fun to have another chance.”
Catcher Kellsi Kloss said “there’s no hard feeling” because “Michigan is a really classy team.” Nonetheless, “since they ended our season last year, we want to kind of return the favor.”
Last year’s game was tied at 3 before the Wolverines scored three runs in the sixth inning.
“The wheels kind of came off for us late,” Kloss said.
LSU and Michigan each lost just one starter from last year’s team, though the Wolverines also lost one of their top two pitchers in Haylie Wagner, who got the win in last year’s meeting with 3.1 innings of scoreless relief after the Tigers had taken leads of 1-0 and 3-1.
“They’re pretty much the exact same team, exact same lineup,” Tigers coach Beth Torina said. “They’re going to be really tough. They’re really veteran; they’re really experienced; they’re really talented. But I really like the spot my team is in, too.”
One difference between this match-up and the last one is that both the Tigers and Wolverines have known since the weekend that they would be facing each other in the opener. Last year’s Sunday afternoon match-up wasn’t set until LSU finished off Alabama in an elimination game less than 15 hours before meeting Michigan.
“We’ve spent a few days on them,” first baseman Sandra Simmons said. “Last year, we only had that night to do it.”
Getting back to Florida, the No. 1 seed is at home, where it was swept by Georgia in a super regional last weekend. So anyone looking for the next “team to beat” in Florida’s absence might well look to the No. 2 seed and last year’s runner-up.
Anyone except the coach of that team.
“The people who think that seeding matters, I can tell you that Florida realizes seeding doesn’t matter, and seeding has never mattered,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Seeding helps put you in position to be in order in the tournament. At this point of the year, I’m certain everybody would agree, everybody has tough match-ups, and the field is wide open. To me it always is.”
The winner of the LSU-Michigan game draws the winner of Thursday night’s first game between No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 6 Alabama for an opportunity to advance to the bracket final Sunday. The loser faces the OU-Alabama loser Saturday and will have to win four games in two days to reach the championship series.
“Especially in this tournament, starting off with a win is crucial,” outfielder Emily Griggs said. “Fighting your way through the losers’ bracket is not impossible by any means, but it definitely is difficult, especially with seven other great teams being there.”
Michigan is playing in the WCWS for the third time in four seasons, and LSU is making its third appearance in Torina’s five seasons. Her first team went 1-2, and last year’s went 2-2.
“Each time we’ve been we’ve gotten a little bit better,” Torina said, “so hopefully this time, we can get all the way to the end.”
LSU is brimming with confidence after winning 20 of its past 23 games and rebounding from an opening loss to beat No. 7 James Madison twice on its home field last weekend.
“I think we all feel good about it,” Kloss said. “I don’t think we have any worries. We’re just going in there playing our best game; and our best game right now is really good.
“We’re not going to be as star-struck this time. Last year, I took it all in and I was a little taken aback at how big the stage is. But now, it’s just a normal game. There might be a couple of thousand more people there, but it’s just a game. I’m just going to treat it as a business trip. We’re here for business, and we’re going to win this whole thing.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.