Carley Hoover’s seventh pitch came hopping back to the circle, only to glance off her glove, allowing Alabama leadoff hitter Haylie McCleney to reach first.
But unlike Game 2 of the series, LSU’s errors didn’t snowball out of control. In fact, they ended with Hoover.
Staked to another early lead, Hoover pitched a four-hit complete game and benefitted from crisp fielding as the No. 4 Tigers clinched the series with an 8-1 win Sunday in Tiger Park. The sophomore struck out nine batters, stemming the Tide (22-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) for her second win of the weekend.
Saturday, a four-error fifth inning helped send the Tigers to a 10-3 loss to the Crimson Tide. Not this time.
“I really think we just got past it,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “We just played really badly (Saturday night). Throughout the course of a 56-game season, that’s going to happen. … We were able to move past it, and this was much more typical of our team.”
Hoover allowed at least one base runner in each of the first five innings but kept the damage to a minimum. Freshman shortstop Amber Serrett, who committed two costly errors Saturday, helped erase a leadoff single in the second inning with two brilliant stops on the run.
Hoover’s only hiccup came in the third inning when junior designated player Marisa Runyon knocked an RBI double to the center-field wall. She still fared much better than her nine-hit outing Friday.
“They really capitalized on my mistakes, so today I tried to make fewer mistakes than on Friday,” Hoover said. “They saw me a lot this weekend, so I had to work to get them out in different ways. And our defense was on fire today.”
The defense backed Hoover from start to finish, all the way up to freshman left fielder Elyse Thornhill’s running grab for the final out of the game. The Tigers (23-3, 2-1) chalked up their Saturday night fielding woes to mentality issues, but a little positive thinking proved to be the cure.
“We shook off what happened (Saturday) night and had a short memory,” senior third baseman Bianka Bell said. “We forgot about all the mistakes we made.”
LSU also made its struggles at the plate a distant memory.
Held to only six hits by Alabama righty Sydney Littlejohn the day before, the Tigers connected 10 times against reigning SEC Freshman of the Year Alexis Osorio. It was the second time LSU tattooed the Tide’s ace this weekend — Osorio gave up six runs on 10 hits while taking the loss in the 6-2 series opener Friday night.
The Tigers teed off on Osorio from the get-go, scoring two first-inning runs courtesy of junior right fielder Bailey Landry’s RBI single and a throwing error. Another run came in the next inning when Thornhill scored on a ball Bell placed just out of McCleney’s reach in center field.
“My coaches do their job well. They prepare for these pitchers and know what’s coming,” Bell said. “They nonstop study film day and night. We were really prepared for (Osorio).”
After going down in order in the fourth and fifth frames, LSU was on the hunt for insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The Tigers got more than they needed, securing the series-clinching win with five runs in their final trip to the plate. LSU chased off Osorio behind four hits, two of which left the park off the bats of Bell and senior designated player Kellsi Kloss.
“By then, we were already winning by a lot, so I felt really comfortable,” Kloss said of her first-pitch, two-run homer that put Alabama away for good. “I didn’t really have anything to lose at that point. I just told myself to jump on the first pitch I saw that was good.”
The Tigers ended the weekend having passed the first test of their grueling eight-week SEC grind. Though Torina maintained Saturday’s loss was nothing more than her team at its worst, she was pleased with the dominant performances sandwiched around its lone defeat.
“Any time you can win a series against a team of their caliber, you’re in good shape,” Torina said. “It was nice to get two wins. We would have loved to get three, but we’re happy to win the series.”