Just two batters into Monday’s Baton Rouge regional final between LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette, Tigers coach Beth Torina sent Carley Hoover to the bullpen.
Hoover threw 225 pitches over 13 innings in Sunday's Games 5 and 6 of the regional, but it was already apparent that starter Allie Walljasper didn’t have her best stuff. Hoover just picked up where she left off Sunday.
Hoover’s escape job was the turning point of LSU’s 5-1 win, sending the Tigers (45-19) to the NCAA super regionals for the third straight year.
Walljasper plunked Ragin' Cajuns leadoff hitter Kara Gremillion, and Aleah Craighton followed with a sinking line drive into left field. Two batters later, DJ Sanders, one of the top sluggers in the country, banged an RBI double off the center field wall.
Walljasper minimized the damage, leaving the bases loaded in the first and working a clean second. But trouble brewed again in the third. The junior righty hit Craighton with a pitch and permitted an infield single by Hayley Haden. Sanders stepped to the plate with a prime opportunity to pad UL-Lafayette’s one-run lead.
And then Torina called on Hoover to put out the fire. She pumped a 1-2 fastball by Sanders for the first out and induced an inning-ending double play to keep the deficit at one run.
"I got here this morning and coach already had the plan, and I told her I wanted the ball," Hoover said. "She was like, 'All right, let's see how you feel.' I was like, 'OK, but I want the ball.' "
The victory capped LSU’s turnaround in its own regional, winning three games in less than 24 hours while battling inclement weather throughout. It was the first time since 2006 that the Tigers eliminated the Cajuns (47-8) from the postseason. UL-Lafayette claimed Baton Rouge regional titles in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
“I think the past few days has just been a testament to how tough this team is," Torina said. "What they have been through in the last few days is just unreal when you think about the hours and what they had to endure. I couldn’t be prouder of them. I think it’s amazing that you can think about legends and the legacy they created this weekend."
LSU will head to the Tallahassee super regional this weekend to play Florida State, the No. 4 overall seed that swept its regional. That best-of-three series starts at 4 p.m. Friday (ESPNU), followed by games at 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) and noon Sunday (if needed, ESPNU).
All 16 top regional hosts advanced to the super regional, including all eight from the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers seemed to be fueled by the injection of energy Hoover brought to the mound. Amber Serrett led off the bottom of the third with a double into left-center field and scored when Aliyah Andrews, who had three hits, drew a throw to second base on a stolen base.
Emily Griggs then handed LSU the lead, stroking an RBI single to left field. It was her ninth straight hit of the regional, dating to a 3-for-4 outing against McNeese State in Sunday's Game 5. She extended the streak to 10 straight hits with an RBI infield single in the fourth.
Griggs went 12 for 18 in the regional with six RBIs and five runs.
"I would have to say it's because I'm not thinking," Griggs said when asked to explain her torrid weekend at the plate. "I think I'm going up there with a clear mind and knowing that I've put in the work to help myself feel confident."
Fitting for this strange in-state rivalry, there was drama, too. Sydney Springfield’s two-run homer in the fourth just snuck inside the left-field foul pole. Cajuns coach Michael Lotief argued the umpires’ ruling, to no avail.
But the Tigers wouldn’t be two wins away from their third straight Women’s College World Series appearance without Hoover.
Hoover, responsible for the save in LSU's regional opener against Fairfield, blanked the Cajuns over five innings, allowing four hits and striking out three. She fired 290 pitches over 18 innings in the final two days of the regional, allowing just one earned run on 15 hits.
"I think there’s times in games where you just need that momentum switch or that pick-me-up moment, and she was able to give that to us this weekend," Torina said of Hoover. "All of our pitchers were great. I think that’s the cool thing about her and Allie in the postseason is that it was Carley this weekend, but it could be Allie next weekend. They can play off of each other, and it allows us to match up.
"It was Carley’s weekend. She was heroic in everything she did this weekend."