Hitting coach Howard Dobson huddled the entire LSU softball team outside the dugout and delivered an impassioned plea to a lineup plagued all weekend by a lack of timely hitting.
No. 1 Florida had just tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the fifth, extending its lead to 4-0 in the series finale. The No. 7 Tigers, scoreless for the past 20 innings, needed offense in the worst way as the threat of a sweep grew larger.
They finally got some thanks to singles and errors by Gators third baseman Taylore Fuller in each of the next two innings. Senior first baseman Sandra Simmons was responsible for both runs, scoring the first and driving in the second with a pair of singles.
But those went down as the only runs the Tigers scored all weekend, which ended with a 6-2 loss Saturday at Tiger Park. It marked the first time LSU (26-8, 3-6 Southeastern Conference) suffered a sweep since 2014.
“I thought we were a little more passive than normal this weekend,” Dobson said. “ … We got the pitch we should have hit and took it instead of swinging at it. We’re better than what we’ve shown.”
After the Tigers stranded 18 and hit only 4-for-26 with runners on in Friday’s doubleheader, coach Beth Torina dramatically shuffled the lineup for Game 3. Bianka Bell moved from the three-hole to leadoff, sending Bailey Landry down to the ninth spot.
“I thought they were trying to pitch around Bianka, so I put her in a spot where that would be difficult to do,” Torina said.
The results were mostly poor. LSU managed only one hit before its late rally and still went 1-for-14 with runners on base.
The first two innings of Game 3 played out much like Friday’s doubleheader, a tight pitchers’ duel that found the Tigers and Gators (33-1, 8-1 SEC) in a scoreless deadlock entering the third.
A pair of bloopers put two Florida runners in scoring position, and freshman Amanda Lorenz scored them both with a shot to left field. Pitcher Carley Hoover kept the Gators at bay until the top of the fifth, when she allowed two singles to prompt Torina to end her day in the circle.
Righty Allie Walljasper limited the damage to a sac bunt and sac fly, and Dobson assembled the Tigers as she trotted off the mound.
“ ‘Go out there and play with heart and compete every pitch instead of letting things happen and letting things keep snowballing. Go out there and fight,’ ” Dobson said he told the team. “I got tired of it. I didn’t think we were competing well enough, and I thought that needed to be said out loud a little more sternly than normal.”
Simmons heard him loud and clear, and her single set up Florida’s first costly mistake of the weekend — an error on a potential double play one batter later that put runners on the corners. Freshman Amber Serrett scored Simmons on an RBI-groundout, but a pair of strikeouts cut the inning short.
LSU added another run in the sixth via Simmons’ RBI single, but second baseman Constance Quinn’s groundout stranded a pair of runners.
After the Gators tacked on two insurance runs on four hits in the top of the seventh, the Tigers left the bases loaded in the bottom half for a fitting end to the series. LSU stranded 25 runners over the weekend, creating a string of missed opportunities in a mostly tight series.
“They were doing well keeping us off-balance,” Serrett said. “But we saw some pitches go by that we should’ve swung at.”
Simmons exited the game in the top of the seventh after taking a knee to the back of the head on a close play at first. Torina said she hadn’t received an update on the senior’s status, but Simmons was healthy enough to shake hands after the game.
The Tigers collected 14 total hits against Florida’s vaunted pitching staff, which leads the nation in ERA, and placed a runner on base in all but seven of 23 innings this weekend. They were prepared, Torina said, but failed to come through when it mattered most.
“We had a definite plan against each pitcher on their staff,” she said. “We worked on preparing for each of them, but I don’t know that we executed it as best as we could.”