LSU and Arizona aren’t conference rivals, and their campuses are separated by more than 1,000 miles.
Nonetheless, their softball programs are very familiar with each other as they prepare to meet in the NCAA Baton Rouge super regional. The best-of-three series opener at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Park will be the fifth meeting between the teams in the past 12 months.
The Tigers won the most recent meeting, beating the Wildcats 4-3 on Feb. 20 in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, California.
Arizona won two of three meetings in the NCAA Tucson regional last season, ending LSU’s season in a 13-5, five-inning win in the final.
“At the beginning of the season, Arizona was definitely the game we were all looking forward to,” outfielder A.J. Andrews said before practice Wednesday. “We were all ready for payback and we were all ready just to compete with them.”
The Nutter Classic was significant beyond just the rematch with the Wildcats. It was the first road trip for the 11-0 Tigers, who won all five of their games over three days. The middle-game victory against Arizona enabled LSU to tie the school record for longest win streak to start a season on their way to a 25-0 start.
“I think Palm Springs gave us a lot of confidence,” coach Beth Torina said. “The victory against Arizona was as much about pride as it was getting a victory on paper. Arizona had ended their season, and it meant something to them to go out and take care of that game, and I think that’s going to be a factor in our favor this weekend.”
Sahvanna Jaquish and Bailey Landry drove in two runs each and Carley Hoover went the distance, withstanding a three-run sixth by the Wildcats.
Andrews, who scored three runs, sounded supremely confident that the result this weekend will mirror the one in Palm Springs.
“We were basically not going to lose that game no matter what was happening,” she said. “We were ready for Arizona in California, and I think it’s the exact same now. If we bring that same energy and that same intensity, I think there’s no way that they can beat us.
“I know nothing is set in stone, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to win this weekend. We have the team and all the capability and the heart and the fight to win this weekend, and we just want it so bad. They denied it last year, and I hope they enjoyed it. Because it’s not going to happen this year.”
Last year’s regional was all about offense as the teams combined for 13 home runs in three meetings.
“The ball does carry more there than it does here,” catcher Kellsi Kloss said. “The air is thin in Arizona, and you have the humidity and the wind is blowing in all the time at Tiger Park, so that does play a role.”
Baylee Corbello pitched all but two-thirds of an inning of LSU’s games against Arizona in the Tucson regional.
“We know they’re big swingers and their game is more like the home run game than the short game,” Corbello said. “That’s something we’ve got to remember.
“You’ve got to keep the ball down. It’s harder to hit a dropball out than a riseball. It’s hard to hit a home run here regardless of the weather, but if the wind is blowing in, it will help us.”
The Wildcats rank fourth in the country in batting average (.355), fifth in home runs per game (1.76) and seventh in runs per game (7.73).
But the wind was blowing inat Tiger Park for the Baton Rouge regional last weekend and there were no home runs in seven games.
Regardless of what happened in Palm Springs or Tucson, all that matters now is what happens in Tiger Park this weekend. One team will win two games and move on to the Women’s College World Series.
“Our motto this year has kind of been that no team is going to beat us twice,” Kloss said. “We all want this so bad. This is like something that’s boiling in our blood. A little bit of it is symbolic about last year, and that’s going to fire us up a little, but whatever the name is on the other jersey we just want this so bad it doesn’t matter if it’s Arizona or Team USA.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.