Les East: Despite falling in WCWS, Tigers still have plenty to celebrate _lowres

Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via AP -- LSU's Bianka Bell runs home after hitting a two-run homer against Georgia on Sunday in the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — For the second consecutive year, the LSU softball season ended where every team wants its season to end: at the Women’s College World Series.

For the second consecutive season, the Tigers came tantalizing close to reaching the final frontier — the championship series — but the 7-3 loss to Oklahoma early Monday morning left LSU two wins short of the final, just as a 6-3 loss to Michigan had done one year earlier.

In the immediate aftermath of falling just short of your ultimate goal, it’s not always easy to appreciate what was accomplished along the way. But getting to the WCWS and playing for a spot in the final — one time, let alone two seasons in a row — is a rare accomplishment.

“It’s very tough to get here,” said coach Beth Torina, who has been to the WCWS three times in her five seasons. “And it’s very tough once you get here.”

LSU was scheduled to play the final game of the first day, but severe weather postponed that start by 24 hours. After dropping the delayed opener to Michigan, the Tigers came back some 15 hours later and eliminated Alabama, then eliminated Georgia on Sunday afternoon, setting up the showdown with the hometown team.

“We only played four games here,” Torina said. “But it felt like we played 14 games here.”

They wanted to play three or four more, but defensive lapses and uncharacteristically mediocre pitching prevented that.

LSU had been playing its best at the end, winning 12 of its final 13 regular-season games. It won three straight games at the Southeastern Conference tournament before losing to Auburn — Oklahoma’s opponent in the championship series that began Monday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium — in the championship game.

LSU swept through the Baton Rouge regional and bounced back from an opening-game loss to win twice against James Madison and capture the Harrisonburg (Virginia) super regional.

But the Sooners were playing a little better down the stretch as evidenced by the fact that their win over the Tigers was their school-record 30th in a row.

Still, understandably emotional senior Sandra Simmons said after the loss, “We ended on the highest note I think we’ve ever had in my four years.”

The head coaches from multiple postseason opponents of the Tigers volunteered their opinion that Torina’s decision to entrench Simmons at the top of the batting order at midseason was a key factor in the Tigers run.

In what turned out to be the final game of her career, Simmons reached base every time she batted, singling three times and drawing a walk.

She was able to play that one extra game, in part, because fellow senior Bianka Bell hit two home runs in the 4-1 victory against Georgia in an elimination game.

Fellow senior Kellsi Kloss also had a hit in the finale as the upperclassmen exhibited this team’s defining trait: a relentlessness that allowed it make the first return trip to the WCWS in school history even as outsiders understandably wondered earlier in the season if this team was up to the task.

“These seniors have taken a program with a lot of tradition already and that has really great history and continued to make it better,” Torina said. “I think they set a standard for us that’s going to be really amazing for us to continue to build upon. They have truly changed the culture.”

That culture, Torina said, will allow the returning players, a group she said features “really great superstar underclassmen” to maintain the high standards.

Earlier in the weekend Simmons reflected on the final days of her career and said she wanted “to leave the program better than I found it.”

That’s exactly what she, Bell, Kloss and fellow seniors Jenna Kreamer and Alayna Falcon have done.

-- Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.