ST. LOUIS — The LSU gymnastics team left nothing to chance Friday night.

After No. 1 Oklahoma had a shaky start in its first two rotations in Semifinal I of the NCAA championships earlier in the day, second-ranked LSU came out firing in Semifinal II at Chaifetz Arena.

Oklahoma, the defending national champion, went on to win the first semifinal despite major mistakes on floor exercise and vault to earn a spot in the Super Six finals to be held at 8 p.m. Saturday.

 

LSU, which is seeking its first national title, made an emphatic statement in joining Oklahoma when the Tigers came out and surged to an NCAA semifinals record on floor exercise at 49.7125.

But that was just the start.

Coach D-D Breaux’s team carried the early momentum to vault to score a 49.625 — a school record at the NCAA championships — and take control with a 99.2750 score at the halfway point.

“That’s how we train. … We have a lot of heart; that’s our mantra,” Breaux said of the floor exercise score. “And we brought our ‘A’ game tonight.”

From that fantastic start, LSU coasted to the sixth Super Six berth in program history with a final score of 198.2750 — putting the Tigers in position to win the national title that has eluded Breaux for the first 39 years of her career.

“There was not a target score. … You just have to be in the top three (to advance),” she said. “That was really the goal tonight. You come in here Saturday night, and throw it all on the floor and have fun.”

She said it won’t be difficult for her team to refresh and reset and perhaps produce another impressive score.

“No, this is what they do in intrasquad meets before our meets every week,” Breaux said. “They feel like it’s the PMAC out there.”

It was easy to see where the juice came from for the Tigers’ solid start. Senior Ashleigh Gnat put up a 9.9625 to tie for the floor exercise crown, and freshman Kennedi Edney won the vault with a career-high 9.9875.

That wasn’t the last individual title the Tigers would pick up: Sarah Finnegan, in a return to her hometown, tied for the bars title with a 9.950.

The team score was the highest in an NCAA championships meet for LSU, topping the 197.600 the Tigers put up at Birmingham, Alabama, in the 2014 Super Six, and was the third-highest in school history in any competition.

Joining the Tigers from the second semifinal were fellow Southeastern Conference members Florida (197.8125) and Alabama (197.6000).

Those three will match up with the top three from Semifinal I — Oklahoma, UCLA and Utah — on Saturday night with the national title on the line.

Actually, LSU didn’t coast into the Super Six and came within a tenth of a point of the all-time school mark of 198.375 set against Minnesota in 2015.

The Tigers never took their foot off the gas when they returned from their second bye after vault and had a 49.4125 on bars behind Finnegan’s 9.950 before completing the dominant performance with a 49.5875 on beam.

Sydney Ewing set the tone for LSU on floor exercise. She led off with a solid 9.90, which turned out to be only the fifth-best score of the evening for the Tigers.

Still, Ewing was able to set up the middle of Breaux’s powerful lineup — Myia Hambrick, Finnegan and McKenna Kelley — to score three consecutive 9.950s before Gnat capped it with her 9.9625.

“It was an incredible lineup,” Gnat said. “We know that’s our potential. Everyone can put up an extremely good score, so it was an amazing way to start the meet.”

“It was great to see that kind of a start,” Edney said. “It gave us some momentum, and that kind of got me motivated for vault.”

By the time LSU moved to vault, the Tigers were on a serious roll. They kept it up with Ewing’s 9.9625 in the third spot before Edney set LSU’s purple and gold-clad cheering section off with her winning vault of 9.9875 in the second-to-last spot. Gnat then came in with a 9.90.

For all intents and purposes, the Tigers had already punched their ticket to the Super Six after just two rotations. But they still had to finish it off, and they did it in style.

Finnegan produced a 9.950 on bars that won her the national title, and Lexie Priessman anchored with a 9.9250 to virtually seal the deal.

They still weren’t finished, however, with just the beam — the volatile event that cost the Tigers a shot at the team title in 2015 — remaining.

LSU scored five competitors with 9.90s or better: Gnat and Hambrick put up 9.9375s, Finnegan came in with a 9.9125 and Erin Macadaeg and Ewing both had a 9.90.

Yet they know it was just the first day, and they have to try to duplicate their effort Saturday night.

“Coming off this performance, we have to keep it in the back of our minds,” Finnegan said. “We have the confidence, but we still have to do it (Saturday).”

After so many years of trying, Breaux knows what has to happen.

“You just want to keep your momentum, your enthusiasm and your energy going," she said. “We don’t have to be perfect. We need to be enthusiastic.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.