STARKVILLE, Miss. — When the LSU softball team trailed Texas A&M 4-2 entering the bottom of the seventh inning in its Southeastern Conference tournament opener, things weren’t as dire as they might have seemed.
Four times in the past six weeks the Tigers had faced a similar last-inning deficit before coming back to win. So it was just another day at the office when LSU parlayed three singles, two intentional walks, a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball into a three-run rally and 5-4 victory Wednesday afternoon at Nusz Park.
Instead of spending the next four days wondering about the details of their NCAA tournament fate, the sixth-seeded Tigers (43-14) are preparing for a quarterfinal game against second-seeded Kentucky at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The 10th-seeded Aggies (37-19) are the ones looking ahead to the NCAAs.
“Going into the bottom of the seventh, I knew we were not going go out today,” senior firest baseman Sandra Simmons said, “and I reminded the team that we weren’t losing this game.”
LSU overcame last-inning deficits of one run to beat Mississippi State and Washington, two runs to beat Arkansas and three runs to beat Georgia. But it was a series against A&M that Tigers coach Beth Torina was thinking of when the seventh began.
It was that series in which freshman Elyse Thornhill of St. Joseph’s Academy went 4-for-10, drove in five runs and scored two of the Tigers’ 13 runs.
“She was so good during that series,” Torina said. “I thought it was a good spot for her. I felt like maybe she would be confident against them.”
So Torina sent Thornhill, who hadn’t had a hit in the last 18 games and hadn’t batted in the last 14, to pinch hit for Amber Serrett.
Thornhill grounded a single to center, and Bailey Landry followed by chopping a single to second, bringing up Simmons, who was 1-for-3. Simmons and Torina talked about whether to bunt or hit away. Simmons said she felt more comfortable bunting because she hadn’t seen the ball well earlier, but she changed her mind when she saw the first baseman and third baseman “playing in my face.”
“I knew I had to do more,” said Simmons, who singled to left, sending home pinch runner Akiya Thymes. Samantha Show relieved starter Trinity Harrington (7-8), and Emily Griggs sacrificed the tying and winning runs into scoring position.
Bianka Bell was intentionally walked, and Harrington returned to face Sahvanna Jaquish. Harrington had induced 11 ground-ball outs, including an inning-ending double play from Jaquish in the fifth.
“That’s exactly why we put her back in there — to try and get a double play,” A&M coach Jo Evans said.
Ashley Walters’ passed ball sent Landry home with the tying run, and Jaquish was intentionally walked to set up another double-play opportunity.
Kellsi Kloss smashed a potential double-play grounder to third baseman Riley Sartain, but Sartain couldn’t handle the single as Simmons scored the winning run.
The comeback made a winner of Carley Hoover (16-7), who limited A&M to one run in 4.1 innings in relief of starter Sydney Smith, who allowed Walters’ three-run homer in the third.
LSU took its early lead on RBI singles by Kloss in the first and Landry in the second. The Tigers might have scored more, but Kloss and Landry were both thrown out trying to advance to second on the throw home.
Smith worked around three hits in the first two innings, the second ending when Landry saved two runs with a sliding catch of a sinking liner just inside the foul line.
Landry said that just before the pitch, assistant coach Howard Dobson had moved her closer to the line, giving her the edge she needed to make the play.
“I thought we had been a little bit timid defensively in the first inning,” Torina said, “so it was nice to see someone step up and set the tone for how we needed to play defense.”