The LSU softball team’s late-season struggles didn’t matter Sunday night.
Even though the Tigers lost six of their last nine games and were bounced from the Southeastern Conference tournament at Tiger Park in the quarterfinals, they are the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, meaning they will not have to leave Tiger Park as they try to qualify for the Women’s College World Series.
LSU was one of five SEC teams, including defending national champion Florida and SEC tournament champion Auburn, to gain top-eight national seeds in 64-team bracket.
The Tigers will host the four-team Baton Rouge regional beginning Friday and, if they advance, they will then host a best-of-three super regional the following weekend.
It’s the first time LSU has been a national seed since the NCAA went to the super regional format in 2006.
“It’s a great moment for this program,” coach Beth Torina said. “I think it’s definitely based on what these girls earned during the season. They’ve had a fantastic season and deserve a lot of credit for what has happened tonight.”
LSU (44-11) will begin play in the double-elimination regional when it faces Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Texas Southern (25-16) at 6 p.m. Friday (ESPN2). The other first-round matchup has Arizona State (34-20) playing Nebraska (34-21) at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
The Tigers’ chances of earning a national seed became less certain as they slipped into a tie for fourth place in the SEC regular-season standings. Then they lost to Tennessee, which earned the No. 8 national seed after beating Florida and taking Auburn to extra innings before losing in the tourney title game Saturday, 7-5 on Thursday.
“These last few weeks, we haven’t really played LSU softball like we were at the beginning of the season,” shortstop Bianka Bell said. “So we weren’t really sure where we were going to be seeded after that, but we’re excited that we got (the national seed).”
The Tigers’ season-long body of work, which included a school-record 25-0 start that earned them a school-first No. 1 ranking, convinced the selection committee that they were deserving despite the late dropoff.
“It’s nervewracking, but we felt it was going to happen,” outfielder A.J. Andrews said. “We had a historical beginning to the season. Even though it may not have gone the way we wanted it to toward the end, we’re still a team that’s ready to compete and we’re still a team that does not want to lose.”
LSU entered the SEC tournament with the No. 2 RPI in the country even after slipping to eighth in the most recent polls.
“We had a strong RPI all year long,” Torina said. “They had some great wins over some great teams, and they’re very deserving.”
The winner of the Baton Rouge regional will advance to face the winner of the Tucson regional, featuring Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico and St. John’s.
LSU returned to practice Friday and Saturday after the loss to Tennessee and will begin preparations for the regional Monday afternoon.
“I feel like going to practice right now,” Andrews said. “There’s going to be a lot of film, a lot of practice and a lot of mental preparation on who we’re going to play.”
The Tigers are making their 10th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament and are hosting a regional for the eighth time after a one-year absence. They have an all-time record of 17-10 when playing at home in the NCAA tournament, which they have qualified for 17 times.
“It’s going to be a huge advantage playing at Tiger Park,” Torina said.