After fighting tooth and nail the past three seasons in the NCAA tournament, the LSU and Texas A&M softball teams meet once again in a three-game series this weekend with not nearly as much riding on the outcome.
But that doesn’t mean the games aren’t important.
Meeting a month earlier than usual, 13th-ranked LSU and the No. 10 Aggies will square off for the first time as Southeastern Conference foes in a three-game series that begins at 7 p.m. Friday in College Station, Texas.
The teams will play again at 4 p.m. Saturday and close out the series at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, with those games being broadcast by ESPN and Fox Sports Net, respectively.
LSU (33-8, 9-3 SEC) goes into the series with some confidence after upsetting Texas A&M (33-7, 5-6) in the College Station Regional last season.
The Tigers gained a measure of revenge with 2-0 and 2-1 wins against the Aggies, who were ranked 14th at the time, and used it as a springboard to the Women’s College World Series after A&M ousted LSU in 2010 and ’11.
Of course, it’s a whole new season with lots of new players after LSU lost nine letterwinners — including six starters. But that won’t stop the Tigers from taking at least a look back at their accomplishment of a year ago.
“There will be some memories, and I think our team feels really confident about the trip because they know what to expect,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “They’ve been there before and done that, so I think they feel really good about it.”
The difference, she said, is this year’s games won’t be at a “neutral” NCAA site. Which means they’ll be hearing the A&M fight song a lot and be playing in a front of a hostile crowd.
“But they feel confident about the trip,” Torina said.
Junior third baseman Tammy Wray is among the Tigers looking forward to making her third trip to the Aggie Softball Complex.
“It’s going to be fun,” Wray said Thursday. “We’ve been told the games are sold out and there will be a completely packed house, so we have to go in with confidence knowing we beat them there last year.
“We have to play within ourselves and not get a big head,” she said. “We can’t go in there and assume anything because of last year. It’s a completely different team this year, but we do have some confidence knowing how we played them.”
LSU is already playing with some extra confidence as the leaders in the SEC West after winning two out of three games at Arkansas last weekend.
After winning the opener handily, 8-2, the Tigers let a seventh-inning lead slip away in a 4-3 setback in the middle game. But they won Sunday’s finale 5-4 and claimed the series after wiping out a four-run deficit.
LSU has won all four of its SEC series so far, but this one was especially satisfying for Torina for the way her team rebounded after Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss.
Down 4-0 after four innings, the Tigers scored three runs in the fifth and two in the sixth and then came up with two defensive gems, one by Wray, to preserve the lead and the win.
“I couldn’t believe how hard they fought,” Torina said. “They just were not going to lose the series. They haven’t lost a series all season, and they had no intention of doing it at Arkansas.
“That game was just an absolute battle,” she added. “It was a hard-fought game for seven innings, and they earned every bit of that win.”
The series with A&M begins a challenging final half of the SEC regular season for LSU, as the Tigers will face Missouri and Alabama at home before closing up at Georgia.
“We know it’s a challenge, but every weekend is challenging in the SEC,” Torina said. “We’ve done the work. We did a good job in February and March.
“Now, we get to go and be aggressive and play big and just enjoy the results for this month because we’ve laid the groundwork and put ourselves in a good spot.”