Breaking the slump? LSU softball team goes tries to break loose vs. South Carolina _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- LSU pitcher Carley Hoover confers with coach Beth Torina and catcher Kelsi Kloss during the Tigers' 2-0 loss to Kentucky on April 11 at Tiger Park.

Constance Quinn bristled at the word.

It’s the dreaded “S” word, one LSU softball players hesitate before using, should they decide to say it at all. The word contains just one syllable yet represents a much larger trend that has bogged down the No. 14 Tigers through much of Southeastern Conference play.

That word? Slump.

“We kind of laugh about that ‘S’ word,” Quinn said Thursday. “We say, ‘We’re not going through that.’ ”

For the first time in more than a month, the team’s denial might be founded in reality. After scoring just three total runs over a recent five-game SEC losing streak, LSU notched a combined 17 runs in back-to-back wins at Mississippi State last weekend.

The Tigers, armed with the belief they’ve finally turned a corner, will take their first three-game winning streak in six weeks into a weekend series against South Carolina. Game 1 is set for 6 p.m. Friday at Tiger Park.

“We’ve seen ourselves be able to do it, so now it’s having that confidence when we go up to the plate,” senior first baseman Sandra Simmons said. “There’s no reason for us to not have success right now.”

LSU (33-13, 7-11) is mired in the bottom third of the league with only two conference series left. The Gamecocks (32-13, 5-10) sit just one spot below the Tigers in the standings.

With the end of the regular season looming, Quinn said the team’s focus is racking up wins to pad its postseason résumé.

“We’re building from that to go into the postseason,” the junior second baseman said. “Our biggest thing right now is just wins and trying to put ourselves in a good position come that time.”

South Carolina will be out to accomplish the same task using a consistent lineup and a duo of strikeout-heavy pitchers. Juniors Jessica Elliott (16-3) and Nickie Blue (15-10) sport identical 2.50 ERAs and have combined to strike out 202 batters while handling all but 6.1 innings in the circle this season.

“They swing big and hit a lot of long balls. Their offense has some really, really great moments,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “Then on the mound, Nickie Blue is capable of a great game any day. She’s really talented. She’s a special pitcher.”

Torina and the Tigers will be fighting for something other than a sweep this weekend. Saturday’s game, which begins at 6 p.m., is designated as the fifth-annual “Strikeout Ovarian Cancer” game.

It’s a cause near and dear to Torina, whose mother Betty is a survivor of the disease.

LSU will hold a ceremony before the game recognizing those who were lost to and lived through ovarian cancer. There will also be a two-mile ovarian cancer walk beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday starting at Tiger Park. Torina said last year’s Geaux Teal fundraisers generated $35,000, all of which remained in Baton Rouge to spread awareness of ovarian cancer in the community.

“It’ll be a win no matter what happens on the field,” Torina said, “but hopefully we can get three wins as well.”

Smith on freshman watch list

Four days after picking up her first career SEC win, Sydney Smith got some more good news.

The freshman pitcher earned a spot on the NFCA Division I National Freshman of the Year Top 25 list Thursday. Smith’s 0.74 ERA is the third-lowest nationally, and she has tossed a team-high five shutouts along with a five-inning perfect game.