Regardless of sport, LSU and Alabama rarely fail to produce thrillers.
Thursday night’s softball showdown was no different.
In front of 1,917 fans — the fifth-largest crowd in Tiger Park history — the 12th-ranked Tigers and No. 4 Tide needed eight innings to decide a winner.
In the end, LSU walked off the diamond with a 3-2 win, thanks to a game-ending single from freshman first baseman Sandra Simmons.
“They never lost hope. They never had a doubt. They never second-guessed themselves,” LSU coach Beth Torina said of her players afterward. “They have a ton of fight, and I think that’s probably the best quality this team has. It’s a huge game and a huge series for us.”
The win put LSU (38-11, 13-6) in sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference West Division, at least for the moment. The Tigers are one game ahead of Alabama (40-8, 12-7). The teams play again at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by the series finale at 1 p.m. Saturday.
With the score knotted at 2 in the eighth, No. 9 hitter Simone Heyward legged out an infield single to begin the inning, and A.J. Andrews followed by drawing a four-pitch walk off Tide starter Jackie Traina.
Jacee Blades grounded into a fielder’s choice, moving Heyward to third, and the Tide intentionally walked Bianka Bell, loading the bases. Allison Falcon popped out to second base for the second out, bringing Simmons to the plate with the game on the line.
“I had nerves, but good nerves,” Simmons said. “I knew I could do it and I just wanted to be the one to end it.”
Simmons got her wish.
The true freshman answered by lining a two-strike pitch off the glove of Tide shortstop Danae Hays and into left field to bring Heyward home and give LSU the series-opening victory.
“It was really exciting,” Torina said. “They did exactly what we needed them to do, and good for Sandra to come through tonight.”
The eighth-inning drama was nearly unnecessary. One inning earlier, the Tigers seemingly had the game in the bag.
With two outs, nobody on base and a two-run advantage in the LSU’s favor, all the Tigers had to do was retire Jadyn Spencer, who was 0-for-2 up to that point.
The task proved easier said than done. Spencer lined a single into shallow left field to keep Alabama alive. Leona Lafaele followed with another single to left, putting runners at the corners.
LSU starter Rachele Fico then hit Hays in the arm to load the bases, then walked two consecutive Tide hitters to bring two runs home, tying the score.
“I think I was just a little bit overanxious and excited,” Fico said. “That caused me to tense up and elevate the ball a little bit. I wasn’t throwing the pitches I wanted to necessarily in that situation.”
After a team meeting in the circle, Fico (23-9) settled in and snagged a liner from Haylie McCleney to end the inning, but the damage was done and the game went into extras.
Alabama loaded the bases again in the eighth, thanks to back-to-back singles singles from Kaila Hunt and Molly Fichtner to lead off the inning. Fico issued another walk to Lafaele but forced Hays to fly out, ending the threat.
“My team had my back big-time,” Fico said. “We really, really came up big tonight. It was a total team effort.”
LSU got its initial lead thanks to a two-run homer by Kellsi Kloss in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Falcon drew a one-out walk to begin the threat, and Kloss came to the plate with two outs. On a 3-1 count, Kloss belted the fifth pitch of the at-bat over the center-field wall to give LSU a 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers are now 6-0 against the Tide in Tiger Park. But the teams will meet two more times this weekend.