Allie Walljasper generally is the middle starter in the LSU softball team’s rotation.
As such, she sometimes might get overlooked like a middle child. Fellow sophomore Carley Hoover has been the marquee pitcher for two seasons, dominating with a record of 38-15 and an earned run average of 2.04.
This season, freshman Sydney Smith gained a lot of attention by leading the country in earned run average with 0.80 during the regular season.
But in between Walljasper, 27-10, 1.78 the past two seasons, has been her usual consistent self and has raised her game in the postseason. She has not allowed a run in three appearances in the NCAA tournament, covering 15.1 innings, and is a major reason the Tigers are headed to the Women’s College World Series for a second consecutive season.
“She’s an extremely consistent performer for us,” coach Beth Torina said. “She just competes with ice water in her veins.”
Walljasper had arguably the most significant day of her LSU career Saturday when she got a victory and a save as the Tigers beat James Madison twice to win the Harrisonburg, Virginia, super regional.
She pitched a five-hit shutout as the Tigers staved off elimination with a 2-0 victory that forced a winner-take-all finale. Just a few hours after throwing her first postseason complete game, she relieved Smith and threw three scoreless innings to get her first postseason save.
“There was no doubt in my mind that she was going to find a way,” Torina said.
Twice Walljasper was left with no margin for error with the Tigers clinging to a 3-2 lead in the finale.
In both the fifth and seventh innings, Torina elected to intentionally walk Megan Good, who had homered twice off Hoover and once off Smith, to load the bases. The strategy took the bat out of Good’s hands, but it also brought up cleanup hitter Jailyn Ford and removed the luxury of an open base.
“Loading the bases just brought us a step closer to success” was Walljasper’s matter-of-fact reaction.
The success came in the fifth when Walljasper got Ford to pop out to third base. In the seventh, the stakes were even higher with the potential tying run on third and a potential season-ending run on second.
“I was just trusting in the process and trusting in my teammates behind me that we were going to get the job done,” Walljasper said. “I just kept going and focusing on the next pitch.”
The fifth and final pitch resulted in Ford swinging at strike three, and LSU was off to Oklahoma City.
It’s unclear if Walljasper’s postseason dominance will lead Torina to consider starting her in the Tigers WCWS opener against Michigan at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. After all, before Walljasper’s shutout in Saturday’s first game, Hoover had a win or a save in the Tigers’ past 13 postseason wins.
Four of Hoover’s saves in that streak preserved victories for Walljasper, who is 5-1 with a 1.83 ERA in 11 postseason appearances.
The loss came in her postseason debut against Tennessee in last year’s Southeastern Conference tournament at Tiger Park. In that game, Walljasper allowed four runs in 2.1 innings. Since then, her postseason ERA is 1.33.
When LSU fell into the losers’ bracket of the Baton Rouge regional last season, Walljasper started the first of three consecutive elimination games and got the win, allowing two runs in 9.1 innings before yielding to Hoover for the final two outs.
After Hoover threw a complete game in another elimination game to start the next day, Walljasper started the finale and allowed just one earned in 6.1 innings before giving way to Hoover, who finished a game the Tigers won in nine innings.
So even if Hoover remains in her traditional No. 1 spot in the rotation, and regardless of how Torina chooses to use Smith, who has a team-high four postseason starts including the super regional finale, Walljasper will play a prominent role at the WCWS.
“She just competes at such a great level,” Torina said. “Whether it’s the bases loaded or the first pitch of the game, she looks the same. I’ve watched it for two years. She’s a winner.”
— Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.