STARKVILLE, Miss. — We don’t know for sure whether an NCAA regional hosting opportunity was at stake when LSU and Texas A&M met in the first round of the Southeastern Conference softball tournament Wednesday.
But there’s no question the 12th-ranked Tigers were feeling a whole lot better about their hosting chances than the 16th-ranked Aggies were about theirs after LSU scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to win 5-4 at Nusz Park.
The Tigers have the 15th-highest RPI in the country and the Aggies have the 17th. Sixteen schools will be named hosts Sunday night.
LSU coach Beth Torina said she tried her best not to let her players know that she believed a hosting opportunity might well have been on the line.
“I don’t think anyone had any idea how important it was,” Torina said after the Tigers improved to 43-14 with their 13th win in 14 games. “I definitely knew that in the back of my head, but I’m also not in the business of speculation. All I want to do is put our team on the field and play the best game we possibly can and let the cards fall where they may.
“I truthfully believe our résumé is pretty strong. I understand where we are in RPI, but I think we have a lot of other things on our résumé that are going to be very positive for my team.”
Aggies coach Jo Evans said she was hoping for a deep run in the SEC tournament to erase any doubt in the NCAA selection committee’s mind about A&M’s worthiness as a host.
“Hosting and having a chance to play in front of our crowd is what we play for all year long,” Evans said. “Now it’s a matter of us being ready to go on the road and toughen up.”
LSU faces Kentucky ace again
LSU’s win gave it a Thursday afternoon matchup against second-seeded Kentucky and most likely an 11th time facing Wildcats star pitcher Kelsey Nunley over the past four years. When Kentucky swept the Tigers last month and Nunley threw two of the three complete-game shutouts, Torina joked that she was going to attend Nunley’s graduation “and applaud.”
As it turns out, LSU isn’t done with Nunley, who has six wins, three losses, one save and a 1.38 ERA in 60.2 innings against the Tigers.
“We voted her as the best pitcher in our league,” Torina said. “She’s done so many great things in her career. Truthfully, I’m happy to have one more shot at her. We’ll have a different plan for her.”
Torina said she likes LSU’s odds against Kentucky even with Nunley in the circle.
“I do think it’s tough to beat somebody four times in a season,” Torina said. “We definitely respect her, but we’re going to try and attack her like we would anybody else.”
Role reversal works both ways
Sydney Smith and Carley Hoover reversed roles and it worked out for LSU again.
In the Tigers regular-season finale against Washington on Sunday, Smith relieved Hoover, who gave up three runs in the third inning, allowed just one run the rest of the way and LSU rallied to win in nine innings.
On Wednesday, Hoover relieved Smith after Smith gave up a three-run homer in the third, allowed one run the rest of the way and the Tigers rallied to win. Both final scores were 5-4.