LSU’s record-setting softball season continued for at least one more day as the Tigers bounced back from an afternoon loss to beat Nebraska 3-2 in a dramatic 10-inning elimination game Saturday night at Tiger Park.
No. 5 national seed LSU (46-12) will get another shot at Arizona State, which beat the Tigers 1-0 in Saturday’s first game, for the NCAA tournament’s Baton Rouge regional title Sunday.
LSU will need to win a noon game to force a winner-take-all second game afterward. If the Sun Devils (36-20), who are 2-0 in the regional, win the first game, they will advance to a super regional next weekend.
“We can’t even think about a second game,” said Kellsi Kloss, who singled home the tiebreaking run in the 10th and caught all 17 innings Saturday. “We’re not even taking it one game at a time. We’re taking it one pitch at a time.”
Tension built throughout the final game as three times the Tigers, who set school records by winning their first 25 games and being ranked No. 1 in the country, had to prevent the Huskers from scoring in the bottom halves of innings to keep their season alive.
Finally, in the top of the 10th, Bailey Landry walked with one out and beat the throw to second on Bianka Bell’s grounder. Kloss singled home the first run and Sahvanna Jaquish singled home an insurance run.
“I can’t take any credit,” Kloss said. “It was my teammates getting on in front of me, and then Sahvanna drove in the third run. If she doesn’t drive in that run, we’re still playing.”
Tigers coach Beth Torina tweaked the middle of her batting order for the night game, dropping Jaquish from the clean-up spot to the fifth spot and swapping her with Kloss.
Jaquish has tied her own school record with 17 home runs, and her game-winning RBI tied her with Bell for that school record with 70, but she has slumped down the stretch.
After the loss to Arizona State, she was 4 for her past 27 (.148) with no extra-base hits and five RBIs. Against the Sun Devils, she was 0-for-3 with two critical strikeouts. The first came with runners on second and third and one out in the first, and the other stranded the tying run at third in the sixth.
“Kellsi has been swinging the bat so well in BP that I was really confident in her,” Torina said of the switch. “I also thought it might take a little pressure off of Sahvanna. She’s been putting a lot of pressure on herself and I thought seeing some different looks might help her and it worked out pretty well for us.”
Allie Walljasper (14-5), held Nebraska (35-23) was outstanding for nine innings, holding Nebraska to five hits before appearing to tire in the 10th.
“She’s a crafty pitcher,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said. “She moves the ball around, she changes speeds and she came up with a couple of really critical strikeouts at really critical moments, which great pitchers do.”
In the 10th, Walljapser gave up two singles, a fielder’s choice grounder and an RBI single. That made it 3-2, and the Huskers had the tying run on second the winning run on third when Torina brought in Carley Hoover, who had pitched a three-hitter but gotten the loss against Arizona State.
Hoover got a pop-up and fly ball to send LSU into the championship round.
“Carley is one of the toughest competitors I know,” Walljasper said, “and I knew she’d get the job done.”
LSU, which scored 10 runs in the first two innings of a 15-0 run-rule victory against Texas Southern on Friday ended a subsequent 12-inning scoring drought on Sandra Simmons’ RBI single in the top of the fourth, but otherwise was handcuffed by Huskers starter Emily Lockman (18-14) until the 10th.
Nebraska got its first hit off Walljasper, who got a complete-game victory when LSU run-ruled Nebraska 10-2 in five innings in a February tournament in Palm Springs, California, when Kiki Stokes led off the bottom half with a single to left.
MJ Knighten bunted just in front of the plate. Kloss hesitated, unsure if the ball was fair, and her throw to first was too late and Stokes hustled all the way to third. Alicia Armstrong followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the score.
Then came five consecutive scoreless innings as the pressure mounted on both teams.
Finally, the 10th inning brought an end to a daylong roller-coaster ride for LSU. The Tigers, whose 15-0, five-inning run-ruled game against Texas Southern ended shortly before midnight Friday, arrived at the ballpark at 9 a.m. for the start of the first game two hours later.
LSU managed just four hits against ASU starter Breanna Macha, but nearly 12 hours after arriving at the ballpark it had earned another shot at the Sun Devils.
“I think we were playing not to lose,” Torina said of the first game. “I think we were too cautious and just trying to put the ball in play. We have to make adjustments, and I have all the confidence in the world that we will.”