What do sports fan cherish more than a team that achieves?
A team that achieves while beating the odds.
LSU softball has been that program under seventh-year coach Beth Torina. Three of the Tigers’ four trips to the Women’s College World Series with Torina have been clinched on far-flung ballfields. LSU won a super regional in 2012 at Missouri after claiming a regional at Texas A&M, in 2016 at James Madison and this past year at Florida State, the No. 6 national seed again this year whose regional winner will host the winner of the Baton Rouge regional at LSU’s Tiger Park next week.
The question when this time of year comes round is quite simply this: Can Torina’s Tigers do it again?
The intangibles say yes, most definitely. Every team in the country would love to have a core of three tremendous senior contributors in pitchers Allie Walljasper, Carley Hoover and center fielder Emily Griggs, who possess the experience of having played on three WCWS teams. They, along with reserves Sydney Bourg and Sydney Loupe, form the nucleus of the winningest class in LSU softball history. A class that has staked the Tigers to a 41-14 record thus far.
“There’s no substitute for experience, for sure,” said Torina, whose Tigers open at regional play at 5:30 p.m. Friday against Fordham in Tiger Park. “The fact they’ve been here before, you can’t buy that, you can’t get that. The fact they understand how to win this time of year is probably the most valuable skill they possess.”
Been there and believing you can come through in the clutch yet again is a handy tool. But softball and baseball are statistically laden games for a reason. The numbers don’t lie.
It is crucial in the postseason to have great pitching, great starting pitching in particular. That LSU has in abundance. Walljasper and Hoover are a combined 32-11 this season, teaming for 33 of the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference-leading 40 complete games. The Tigers also possess the SEC’s third best earned run average at 1.42, fractionally behind Auburn (1.32) and Florida (1.33) and rank fourth in the conference in strikeouts with 356.
Offensively, though, LSU has often been anemic this season, and that has led to an 11-11 record when the Tigers score two or fewer runs. LSU’s .263 team average ranks only ahead of Ole Miss (.261) according to SEC statistics. You have to look way down the SEC list of its top hitters to 28th and 29th place before you find LSU’s Amanda Doyle (.335) and Alyiah Andrews (.333).
In short, the Tigers’ should be able to continue to depend on their star 1-2 starting law firm of Walljasper and Hoover to soak up the innings and slap zeroes on the scoreboard. But someone has to score to win the game (really, I checked), and runs for LSU have frequently been hard to come by. Oh what Torina probably wouldn’t give to go rummaging around her equipment room and find an extra year of eligibility for one of 2017’s departed sluggers like Bailey Landry and Sahvanna Jaquish.
But it’s the big dance, and you dance with the partner you have. Torina’s teams have shown the moxie to overcome fearful odds the last two years to advance to Oklahoma City — LSU spotted both James Madison and Florida State super regional-opening wins before rallying to take the past two. If Walljasper and Hoover (they will be gone in 2019, an LSU lament for another day) can hold down the opposition long enough, perhaps LSU can claw out a run or two and piece that together that lines a path back to Oklahoma City.
Torina knows no matter what, the task will not be easy.
“Every team that’s continuing on to play, all 64 teams, are deserving,” she said. “They all got here because they won games. We have to play good softball no matter who is in this regional. We’ve got to play our best softball to move on.”
Regional ticket information
Tickets for the NCAA Baton Rouge regional go on sale to the public at 8 a.m. Wednesday at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office; by calling (800) 960-8587 or (225) 578-2184 or by visiting LSUTix.net.
All-session ticket books are $60 (reserved chairbacks), $40 (reserved bleachers), $25 (outfield bleachers/Tiger Terrace, adult) and $20 (outfield bleachers/Tiger Terrace, 12 and under). Single session tickets are $15 (chairbacks), $10 (reserved bleachers), $7 (outfield bleachers/Tiger Terrace) and $5 (outfield bleachers/Tiger Terrace, 12 and under).
The Advocate’s Mike Gegenheimer contributed to this report.