Carley Hoover has an attitude.
Not an attitude problem, mind you. Just an attitude. Gritty and tough, attached to a 6-foot-2 frame and, apparently, a self-winding right arm.
No. 4-ranked LSU won two out of three this weekend in a blockbuster of a Southeastern Conference opening series against No. 6 Alabama. The Tigers won 6-2 Friday, were victimized by their six errors and Alabama’s ability to pounce on mistakes in a 10-3 loss Saturday and clinched the series with an 8-1 win Sunday.
Though the Tigers’ bats did plenty of work, it’s still worth arguing that LSU might not have captured the series were it not for Hoover.
Like a vacuum of the same name, she sucked up innings for the Tigers this weekend, pitching 16.1 of LSU’s total 21 innings.
If Hoover felt fatigued Sunday, it didn’t show. She spun a complete-game four-hitter while striking out eight to boost her record to 10-0 and shrink her earned run average to 1.53.
“Like I’ve said before, I don’t expect anything less from her,” said senior shortstop Bianka Bell, who backed her ace with a towering solo home run in a backbreaking five-run sixth inning. “She comes with that attitude that she’s just going to dominate in the circle. She gives us her best, 120 percent in every game that she comes in. She’s just doing really good for us, and we’re glad to have her on our team.”
Hoover wasn’t always on the LSU side. The Clemson, South Carolina native — her mother Jolene Hoover is the former Clemson volleyball coach and travels to see Carley pitch every home weekend with husband, Dave — started at Stanford but transferred to LSU after a stunted, injury-marred freshman season.
Hoover posted 18 wins and was named Louisiana’s pitcher of the year. Right now, she’s pretty much LSU’s pitcher, period. Allie Walljasper started Saturday but lasted only a couple of innings and has been bothered by some sort of throwing arm injury. Sydney Smith and Baylee Corbello are a combined 10-1, but it’s Hoover who coach Beth Torina trusts most in the circle, especially against SEC competition.
“She always wants the ball,” Torina said. “So there was never a doubt or thought in my mind today.”
Though No. 4 LSU finally shook off No. 6 Alabama late, Corbello had to keep the Crimson Tide in check most of the way.
Bama’s leadoff batter Haylie McCleney — one of the nation’s best, hitting nearly .500 — reached base to open the game when Hoover bobbled a chopper hit right back at her.
The error, LSU’s seventh in two days, only seemed to steel Hoover’s resolve. Chandler Dare sacrificed McCleney to second but she was left stranded when Hoover struck out Marisa Runyon and Peyton Grantham to suppress Bama’s threat.
LSU scored a pair of runs in the first and another in the third, but for awhile the Tigers’ bats faded in the afternoon glare. It was up to Hoover to keep the Crimson Tide’s offense from catching fire and she did just that. After giving up back-to-back singles in the fourth she didn’t allow another hit and retired 11 of the last 12 Bama batters to end the game despite a strong, offensively friendly wind blowing out to left.
Afterward, Hoover shrugged off her key contribution this weekend as she did her early fielding glitch.
“I think I did well,” she said. “I think I worked with whomever was behind the plate really well. Coach called really effective pitches. They really capitalized on my mistakes, so today I tried to make fewer mistakes than on Friday. They saw me a lot this weekend, so I had to work to get them out in different ways. And our defense was on fire today — other than me. It’s really easy to throw to whatever offense when our defense plays like it did today.”
It was a great start to the SEC schedule for Hoover and LSU, though but just a first step. The Tigers travel to Texas A&M next weekend then return home for another showdown, this time against No. 1 Florida, which has already captured the series at No. 3 Auburn.
To find success against the Gators, LSU will likely need a healthy Walljasper back on her 16-win form of a season ago.
But if not, Hoover will probably take the job. And maybe that’s the last thing opposing teams want to see after all.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.