The LSU softball team’s ability to finish strong in games has fueled a strong stretch run to the regular season.
Three times the Tigers have come from behind in the sixth or seventh inning to win as their 3-6 start to Southeastern Conference play ended with a 13-11 mark.
“I think one of the most important factors in the makeup of your team is that they have guts and have the ability to continue to fight,” LSU coach Beth Torina said before practice Thursday. “I think no matter the situation this team has shown that they can fight. They can be down to their last strike and find a way to win a ballgame. I think that’s huge, and I say it all the time: That is more than just being talented, just what you have mentality-wise, guts-wise, fight-wise.”
The Tigers trailed Georgia by three runs in the top of the seventh before a two-run, pinch-hit homer by Allie Walljasper ignited a four-run rally for a 5-4 victory April 1.
Two weeks later, they trailed at Mississippi State 2-1 entering the seventh before Bianka Bell homered and Sahvanna Jaquish hit a tie-breaking RBI double before the Bulldogs scored a run in the bottom half to force extra innings. Four scoreless innings followed before LSU scored three times in the 12th and won 5-2.
Last weekend, the Tigers trailed 4-0 at Arkansas entering the sixth and scored two runs in the sixth and three in the seventh to win 5-4. They were down to their final strike before catcher Kellsi Kloss hit a two-run triple for the decisive hit.
“(Torina) always tells us that you’re never out of the fight,” outfielder Emily Griggs said. “I think we have a little more confidence in ourselves in (the late innings) now just because we have been in that position, but the nerves still get to you a little bit when you have just one out or one strike.”
Right-hander Carley Hoover has been the beneficiary of all three of those comebacks, going the distance against Georgia and Arkansas and finishing the win at Mississippi State after relieving Walljasper in the seventh.
“If you have offense, you always have hope,” Hoover said. “It does feel really good to pitch with a lead, but it’s also good that we’re showing fight like that and we’re able to come back. I think that’s going to be pretty valuable come postseason.”
No. 13 LSU (40-13) takes its 10-game winning streak into a nonconference series against No. 11 Washington (32-11), beginning with a doubleheader at 4 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Park. After playing the Huskies again Sunday, LSU will prep for the SEC tournament, which begins Wednesday in Starkville, Mississippi. After that is the NCAA tournament.
“I think this is a really good series to lead us into the postseason,” Griggs said. “Washington will give us a good taste of the competition we’ll see.”
This is the first weekend in nine weeks that the Tigers haven’t faced an SEC opponent.
“They’re the same caliber if not better,” Hoover said.
The Huskies are fourth in the Pac-12 with a 13-8 record. They rank ninth in the country with a .340 batting average, and they haven’t been shut out.
“It feels like a super regional to me,” Torina said. “We’re preparing for somebody that we don’t play year in and year out. We don’t know a lot about them, so we’re kind of starting at square one and playing from scratch.”
LSU hopes to polish a résumé that has gotten much more impressive in the past three weeks.
“We’re presenting a really good front for the committee that’s going to be making decisions here at the end,” Torina said. “Our last 10 has been really strong. I like the spot that our team is in. It’s the spot that we hoped we’d get to, and we’re feeling good about it.
“Our offense has come around. They’re swinging well. I like what I’ve seen from them. We’ve had some really good pitching performances. I’m seeing a lot of really good things.”
Not the least of which is the ability to rally at the end.