Two days before they opened their Southeastern Conference schedule against No. 6 Alabama, LSU softball players gushed about Crimson Tide pitcher Alexis Osorio.
The spin on her riseball, they said, could baffle even the best batters. Her velocity, they claimed, reached incredibly high levels for a pitch with that much movement. The combination of those factors earned Osorio 2015 SEC Freshman of the Year honors, and there was no sophomore slump in sight 23 games into the season.
That wasn’t the case Friday.
The No. 4 Tigers tagged Osorio for six runs on 10 hits to out-muscle Alabama 6-2 in the series opener in Tiger Park. LSU (22-2, 1-0) took Osorio deep for two home runs, one less than she had allowed all year.
“We made her come into our plan, into our zone,” LSU hitting coach Howard Dobson said. “We didn’t chase a whole lot of pitches. … We laid off the pitches that she wanted us to swing at, made her bring it back into the zone, and we were able to capitalize.”
The Tigers jumped on Osorio from the get-go, with junior second baseman Constance Quinn getting plunked on her first pitch before sophomore center fielder Emily Griggs singled through the left side. Senior shortstop Bianka Bell made her pay, launching a homer to dead center to give LSU an early 3-0 lead.
Alabama (21-3, 0-1) got back a run in the bottom of the second inning, but the Tigers matched that in the top half. Junior third baseman Sahvanna Jaquish hit a bases-loaded blooper five feet from the plate, but confusion between Osorio and her catcher allowed Quinn to score.
“Our coaches prepared us really well,” Bell said. “We had a few days of practice to work to get on top of the riseball. We stayed within our zones and didn’t swing outside of our plan.”
Despite the early-inning fireworks, the Tide stayed in the game thanks to LSU stranding five baserunners over the first two frames.
After a quiet third inning, Bell notched her second hit of the night with a one-out single in the fourth. This time Jaquish hit well beyond the infield, clobbering a low pitch for her team-leading eighth home run of the season to cap the scoring with LSU holding a 6-2 advantage.
“She had kept me off-balance the two at-bats before that, so I was really looking for my pitch,” Jaquish said.
While the Tigers tagged Osorio, sophomore pitcher Carley Hoover (9-0) turned in a workmanlike performance, twice wiggling out of jams as Alabama attempted to erase its early deficit.
She started the night with three straight balls before striking out the side in the opening frame. After running into some trouble in the second and third innings, Hoover surrendered just one hit in each of the next three to quell any hopes the Tide had.
The ace surrendered nine hits but kept the damage to a minimum as she struck out eight.
“I live for those moments,” Hoover said of her early-inning jams. “I think I thrive under pressure, and it’s really fun to be able to be in the circle and kind of feed that energy off to my team. They were just as confident in me as I was in them.”
LSU can clinch the series when the teams meet again at 5 p.m. Saturday or in the series finale at 2 p.m. Sunday. Coach Beth Torina hinted sophomore pitcher Allie Walljasper, who hasn’t pitched since Feb. 27 while recovering from an arm injury, will make an appearance in the circle this weekend.
Torina said the win proved the Tigers can compete with top-notch opponents, but it’s just one of many challenges they’ll face in the SEC gauntlet.
“Every win in SEC play is huge, but getting the first one under your belt is a big deal,” she said. “It does great for about 30 minutes tonight, but it does nothing if we don’t follow it up with another win tomorrow. We’re already focused on the next game.”