The LSU softball team began preparations Monday for three potential opponents in the Baton Rouge regional.
The Tigers play Texas Southern on Friday, then will face Arizona State or Nebraska on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament. But the name on the opposing team’s jerseys doesn’t mean a whole lot right now.
“We have to play like we’re playing the No. 1 team,” outfielder A.J. Andrews said. “We have to play like we’re playing Florida every single time. When we played Florida, we knew it was going to be a competitive situation. We knew we were going to have to grind and grind in order to beat them. We played Florida with a lot of intensity because we wanted that No. 1 spot. We were gunning for it.”
LSU was tied for No. 3 in the country in early March when it went to Gainesville to play the defending national champion Gators, who were ranked No. 1 at the time.
Florida won the series opener 4-3, handing the Tigers their first loss after a school-record 25-0 start, but LSU bounced back to win the series with 14-10 and 10-3 victories.
That vaulted LSU to the top spot in the polls for the first time in school history, a spot they occupied for six weeks this season.
“I think they’ve proven they can be the best team in the country; they’ve proven they can play with anyone in the country,” coach Beth Torina said. “They did that all season long, and I think that’s definitely going to help build their confidence.”
Now they’re aiming to be the No. 1 team once the NCAA tournament concludes with the Women’s College World Series.
“I think we’ve proven that we’re a competitive team and that we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Andrews said. “We know we can make it to the World Series.”
After the Florida series, LSU went 17-10. The Tigers have lost six of their past nine games.
“It’s not really a matter of who’s going to stop us, because I don’t feel like anybody really can if we get in our groove and play LSU softball,” Andrews said. “A lot of times, I feel like we beat ourselves; I don’t feel like we get beat by a competitor. So if we can narrow that down and not allow ourselves to beat ourselves, then I really feel like there’s no limit to the things that we can do.”
The Tigers played just one game last week, losing to Tennessee 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday at Tiger Park. The Lady Vols hit three home runs to come back from 2-0 and 5-3 deficits.
“I think seeing a big offense like Tennessee will definitely prepare us for some big offenses from the schools that will be here,” Torina said.
Tennessee is 20th in the country at an average of 6.91 runs per game. Nebraska (14th, 7.11) and Arizona State (17th, 7.02) score at a higher rate than the Lady Vols and the Tigers (23rd, 6.71). Texas Southern ranks 57th at 5.71.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Torina said. “But that’s something we’re used to coming out of the SEC, where every game is a battle. I have no doubt this will be the same.”
The Tigers’ late-season losses created uncertainty about them getting one of the top-eight national seeds until they learned Sunday night that they were No. 5.
“Now the pressure is off of us,” shortstop Bianka Bell said, “and we just have to focus on winning one game at a time.”
The Tigers (44-11) have played 18 teams in the NCAA field, compiling a record of 24-11 against them. That includes a 7-1 record in games shortened by the run rule, including a 10-2, five-inning victory against Nebraska on Feb. 21 in a tournament in Palm Springs, California.
“You really can’t overlook any competitor at all,” Andrews said. “I don’t feel like there’s enough I can do to be ready or that we can do as a team, because it’s going to be a gut-out the whole time.
“We’re a very good team, and we have the potential to be the best team in the nation. We have to continue to go forward as though we’re the best team in the nation.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.