The LSU softball team will learn its place in the NCAA tournament field when the bracket is announced shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.
The Tigers (44-11) were ranked eighth in the most recent polls and seem all but certain to host a four-team regional beginning Friday, despite losing their opening game in the Southeastern Conference tournament to Tennessee 7-5 on Thursday at Tiger Park.
But that loss, LSU’s sixth in its past nine games, put into further jeopardy the Tigers’ chances of being selected as one of eight national seeds, which would allow them to host a best-of-three super regional next week if they win the regional.
Despite the late-season losses, the Tigers had the second-best RPI in the country heading into the SEC tournament and are 16-10 in games against teams in the top 25 of the most recent RPI.
“I think we’ve done spectacular things throughout this season,” said LSU coach Beth Torina, whose team set a school record by winning its first 25 games to earn its first No. 1 national ranking. “Lately we’ve been up and down, but I think we’ve still had some really good moments here at the end where we played some really good ballgames and showed the type of team we are.
“The body of work they’ve put in throughout this season — they’ve played some great games (and) they’ve taken some huge series from some of the top teams — I think they deserve to be in that top group.”
Scott Whittum, who projects the NCAA field for CollegeSportsMadness.com, had the Tigers as the final national seed, but that was heading into the SEC tournament. The results from conference tournaments around the country could change that.
Whittum’s projection had UCLA (No. 9), Georgia (No. 10), Louisiana-Lafayette (No. 11) and Minnesota (No. 12) next in line to grab a national seed. The Bruins’ RPI was No. 7, the Ragin’ Cajuns’ was No. 10, the Bulldogs’ No. 14 and the Gophers’ No. 15.
Sixth-ranked UCLA was 45-9 going into its regular-season finale at Arizona State on Saturday night. The Pac-12 doesn’t have a conference tournament.
No. 10 UL-Lafayette (39-9) lost to South Alabama on Saturday in the championship game of the Sun Belt tournament.
No. 14 Georgia (40-14) won a first-round game, then lost a quarterfinal in the SEC tournament, and No. 15 Minnesota (46-6) lost its first game in the Big Ten tournament.
“Postseason is postseason, no matter where you’re playing,” LSU outfielder Emily Griggs said. “It would be great to be in the top eight. I think we’ve competed enough and done a lot of great things to deserve that.”
Tennessee (42-14), which was 11th in RPI, tied LSU for fourth in the SEC standings and followed its win against the Tigers on Thursday with a victory Friday against No. 1 Florida to reach the SEC title game against Auburn on Saturday night, where it lost in extra innings.
“We have done a lot of good things,” LSU shortstop Bianka Bell said. “If it comes down to it, it would be great to host. If not, we will go on the road and try to give it our best.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.