For five innings, the No. 10 LSU softball team looked like it was headed for its third 1-0 win of the young season, but the game took a swing toward the bizarre in the sixth inning of North Carolina’s 3-1 win on Sunday at Tiger Park in the finale of the Tiger Classic.
The game stopped twice while members from both coaching staffs argued with umpires. The last stoppage came on the last play of the game, when umpires ultimately decided in North Carolina’s favor to put to bed a last-ditch LSU (4-1) rally.
Trailing 3-1 with runners on first and second base, freshman Bianka Bell represented LSU’s go-ahead run at the plate. Things went haywire when junior outfielder Simone Heyward attempted to steal third base.
Tar Heels catcher Amber Parrish’s throw to third base instead caught Bell in the facemask, knocking her to the ground. Unsure whether play had stopped and with the ball rolling toward the LSU dugout, Heyward took off for home.
Bell was still on the ground when Heyward was caught stealing for the final out. LSU coach Beth Torina said after the game Bell appeared to be fine.
The Tigers may have had a better chance at posting the go-ahead run the first time play was stopped in the sixth inning.
With runners on first and second, junior third baseman Tammy Wray hit a high popup toward second base. But the swirling winds at Tiger Park made it anything but a gimme out.
The Tar Heels second baseman couldn’t make the play, and the ball landed on the first base side of the pitchers circle and started rolling toward home plate. As an LSU runner scored, Wray took off toward second base.
Parrish’s throw sailed over second base into an empty center field, rolling all the way to the wall and allowing Wray to score what appeared to be the go-ahead run on a ball that she didn’t even hit out of the infield.
But after a North Carolina assistant coach argued the call, the umpires reversed course, saying that Parrish first touched the ball in foul territory making it a foul ball. Torina argued to no avail.
“(The umpires) said it was foul, and the catcher touched it across (the foul) line,” Torina said. “I honestly didn’t see the play; I was sending the runners.”
LSU was back to a two-run deficit, the runners returned to their bases and Wray struck out to end the inning.
“It seemed like we couldn’t get a break the entire day,” Torina said. “Everything that happened seemed to not go our way. Hopefully in the future we’ll get a few breaks and we’ll learn from it.”
The Tar Heels took control of the game in the top half of the sixth inning, when they put three runs on the board despite hitting just one ball out of the infield.
Junior pitcher Meghan Patterson (1-1) was charged with the loss after she allowed the first two runners of the sixth inning to reach on a bunt single and a fielder’s choice. Torina then pulled her in favor of senior Rachele Fico, who loaded the bases with a walk.
North Carolina (3-2) sent all three runs home on two fielder’s choice plays and a sacrifice fly.
“Things didn’t fall our way today,” Fico said. “If there’s going to be a time for this to happen, it’s going to be early in the season before conference play. We need to grow from it.”
North Carolina sent All-America pitcher Lori Spingola to the circle, and the junior confused LSU batters for most of the day.
She held the Tigers to three hits, all of which came in the fourth inning, to earn her second win of the season.
Junior infielder Allison Falcon, who collected LSU’s lone RBI when she tattooed a Spingola offering off the left field wall for a double, said LSU’s plan was to lay off Spingola’s rise ball. But Spingola changed her approach.
“She was just getting the better of us, pitching it to where we were a little thrown off,” Falcon said. “She did a good job adjusting to us and our plan.”