FORT WORTH, Texas — The LSU gymnastics team overcame a shaky start on balance beam to finish a strong second in Friday’s NCAA Championships first semifinal and advance to Saturday’s four-team championship meet.

No. 3-seeded LSU posted a score of 197.5125 to finish behind No. 2 UCLA (197.675) but easily outpaced No. 6 Michigan (197.200) and No. 5 Utah (196.725).

It is LSU's eighth trip to the NCAA finals and sixth in the past seven years. This is, however, the first year the field for the championship meet was trimmed from six to four.

The Tigers (26-4) were under pressure from the very start as sophomore Christina Desiderio fell in the lead off spot on beam and scored only a 9.1125. But the rest of the LSU gymnasts kept their footing, led by a 9.9325 from AAI Award-winning senior Sarah Finnegan in the anchor spot for a 49.1875.

The score left the Tigers in fourth place after one rotation, but it at least kept them in the meet, just 0.1125 points behind Michigan for the second transfer spot.

LSU then rallied strongly on floor. Junior Kennedi Edney posted a 9.9125 in the fourth spot then senior McKenna Kelley with her mother, Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton, mimicking her routine from the stands, nailed a 9.925. The routines staked the Tigers to a 49.4375 on floor and moved them into third place midway through the meet a fraction behind Michigan.

LSU followed with another big score on vault, a 49.450, to take a slim first-place lead over No. 2-seeded UCLA, 148.075-148.0625. Again, Edney was the star. The 2017 NCAA vault champion drilled a 9.95 in the anchor spot to tie for first at the time with UCLA’s Kyla Ross.

The Bruins passed LSU for first place with a strong final floor routine, but the Tigers easily advanced with a 49.4375 on bars. LSU got three 9.9-plus scores from junior Ruby Harrold (9.90), Edney (9.925) and Finnegan (9.95) in the anchor spot.

Finnegan (beam) and Edney (vault) ended the session in contention for NCAA individual championship honors, depending on the scores of Friday’s second semifinal.

Saturday’s final will be at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.


Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​