After LSU lost to Arizona State in the NCAA softball tournament’s Baton Rouge regional Saturday, Tigers pitcher Carley Hoover said, “We’re going to see Arizona State again tomorrow, and we’re going to be ready.”
The Tigers still had to beat Nebraska in an elimination game, which they did (4-3 in 10 innings) to advance to Sunday.
But Hoover’s faith was rewarded, and she and her LSU teammates certainly were ready. The Tigers beat the Sun Devils 5-0 to force a winner-take-all rematch later Sunday, and they won that one, too — prevailing 4-3 in nine innings to advance to a super regional.
LSU will face Arizona in a best-of-three series next weekend at Tiger Park. The host Wildcats edged Minnesota 7-6 in eight innings in a winner-take-all matchup late Sunday night.
The LSU-Arizona series will start at 9 p.m. Saturday, with games at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. (if necessary) on Sunday at Tiger Park.
Hoover (16-5), who saved the win against Nebraska, got the win in both games Sunday, throwing a four-hit shutout in the first game and 2.2 scoreless innings in relief of Allie Walljasper, who allowed just one earned run in 6.1 innings in the second while pitching on her 19th birthday.
“I’m with these girls every day,” Hoover said. “I see them play every day. I know what they’re capable of. I really thought what we did today was we competed, and that’s what this program is about. With our best and our worst, we are always competing. We are always trying to find a way to win, and that’s what we did today.”
After the Sun Devils (36-22) broke a 2-2 tie with an RBI grounder in the top of the seventh of the second game, the Tigers were three outs from seeing a record-setting season end abruptly. But Bailey Landry bounced a double through the left side to send home Emily Griggs.
“If there’s a clutch gene,” Tigers coach Beth Torina said, “Bailey Landry has got it.”
Landry worked the count to 2-0 against ASU starter Breanna Macha (18-13) before getting her fourth hit of the day.
“I was like, ‘Well, she has to pitch to me now and, if I get a good pitch, I’m doing something with it,’ ” Landry said. “I hit it onto the ground and hoped for the best.”
Macha stranded Landry at second, but two more scoreless innings from Hoover kept the game even going to the bottom of the ninth.
Freshman Sydney Bourg led off with a single, and Griggs sacrificed her to second. A.J. Andrews blooped a single to center but Bourg held at second, unsure whether the ball would fall until it was too late to advance.
Landry’s grounder hit Andrews, who was ruled out, leaving runners at first and second with two outs for Bianka Bell, who lined a single to center as the crowd erupted.
It was a redeeming moment for Bell, who struggled Sunday and throughout the regional amid a record-setting season. Her error had led to the tiebreaking run in the seventh.
“Coach said that nobody beats us twice on this field,” Bell said. “We just wanted to take it to them and play our hardest. We had the mindset to go in and go at them hard every chance we got. We just fought the entire time.”
The loss went to Macha, who started all four games the Sun Devils played and outdueled Hoover on Saturday before seeing the roles reversed in the first game Sunday.
“I thought she was really outstanding all weekend,” ASU coach Craig Nicholson said. “I know she was getting tired at the end of that game, but she wouldn’t admit it. We felt like that was the best opportunity to win. She really gave us an outstanding job of giving us an opportunity to win all weekend long.”
Hoover did the same for LSU, allowing one run in 17.1 innings.
The Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the second game on RBI singles by Kellsi Kloss and Sandra Simmons.
ASU tied it in the third. Sashel Palacios doubled and Jennifer Soria reached on Walljasper’s throwing error before Sierra Rodriguez’s groundout sent home the Sun Devils’ first run of the day. Elizabeth Caporiuscio reached on an infield single, and Chelsea Gonzales’ single to right tied the score.
In the opener Hoover struck out eight, including the side in the seventh, and walked three.
A first-inning RBI single by Sahvanna Jaquish, whose three hits earned her a return to the cleanup spot after being dropped to No. 5 for two games, and an error on Bell’s grounder in the third gave LSU a 2-0 lead. Constance Quinn had an RBI single in the sixth and a two-run double in the seventh.
“There’s so many kids that, if I named all the good things, I would be (speaking) for an hour,” Torina said. “I feel like a sleeping giant has been awoken. Hopefully, we can continue to roll this into the next weekend, and hopefully this is just the beginning of a great postseason run.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.