Many ways to win: LSU softball team showed its versatility in Baton Rouge regional sweep _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --LSU's Sahvannah Jaquish (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring LSU's first run in the second inning of LSU's 2-0 victory over Arizona State in the championship game of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional Sunday in LSU's Tiger Park.

Before Sahvanna Jaquish conducts interviews, LSU softball sports information director Clyde Verdin notifies reporters “The Queen” is coming.

Verdin’s endearing nickname for the often-glamorous catcher/infielder is a fitting one. Jaquish exhibits panache at the plate and behind a microphone, a secondary skill she flashed in a rain-delay sing-off during a midweek game April 20. After her rendition of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” she even quipped about an upcoming record deal and tour with Beyoncé.

But “The Queen” isn’t above doing some dirty work.

Jaquish is the leading run producer for the No. 10 seed Tigers in this year’s NCAA tournament, which continues with a Women’s College World Series first-round game against No. 2 seed Michigan at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Oklahoma City.

Though she’s tied for the team lead with 12 home runs, none of her tournament RBIs has come via the long ball. Instead, Jaquish has relied on the unglamorous hits — singles, groundouts and sacrifice flies — to perform her duties as cleanup hitter.

“Yeah, she can hit bombs. We’ve seen her hit balls at the beginning of the year that are probably still going,” sophomore center fielder Emily Griggs joked Tuesday before the team left for the WCWS.

“But when she hits a sac fly and comes back to the dugout, she has got this big smile on her face. I think that smile is even bigger than when she hits the home run.”

Jaquish had reason to smile last Saturday afternoon.

LSU had just broken a 1-1 tie with No. 7 seed James Madison in the fifth inning of the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Harrisonburg (Virginia) super regional. The junior then launched a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field to add a crucial insurance run.

Griggs said she thought the ball would escape Veterans Memorial Park, driving in four runs instead of one.

But that lone run was all the Tigers needed as they held off the Dukes for a dramatic 3-2 win.

“I think every run matters, and that definitely came back to matter in the seventh inning,” Griggs said.

“That just shows how clutch Sahvanna Jaquish is.”

She has produced timely hits from the beginning of the NCAA tournament, recording at least one RBI in all three of LSU’s wins at the Baton Rouge regional May 20-22.

Jaquish, who didn’t meet with reporters Tuesday, had her biggest outing in a 4-1 win against McNeese State with three separate RBI hits.

Her run-scoring groundout the next day helped the Tigers win the regional with a narrow 2-0 victory against Arizona State, though the mundane result of her at-bat wasn’t lacking flair.

“Nothing Sahvanna does is unglamorous, I can tell you that,” LSU coach Beth Torina said, laughing. “She looks good doing anything.”

She’s hitting .412 with six RBIs and only one strikeout in six tournament games, a strong finish to her quietly successful season. She is sixth nationally with 71 RBIs.

But after Jaquish made headlines and the NFCA’s All-America second team with 17 home runs as a sophomore last year, Torina suggested her utility player has flown under the radar for most of 2016.

“They don’t pick her for any of the preseason awards every single year, yet she’s one of the best players in this conference and in this country,” the coach said. “I think she likes that, though. She plays well with a chip on her shoulder. She’s out to prove herself, and she continues to answer the call every time.”

For senior catcher Kellsi Kloss, who hits in the No. 5 hole behind Jaquish, the on-deck circle also functions as a front-row seat to the junior’s competitive fire.

Opposing teams often intentionally walk LSU’s No. 3 hitter and all-time home run leader, Bianka Bell, to bring up Jaquish in potential scoring situations. Kloss said Jaquish “takes it personally a little bit,” and Torina has seen the price teams pay for pitching to her.

“I hope she’s never overlooked, because she shouldn’t be,” Torina said. “She’s one of the best players I have coached in my entire career.”

A sold-out ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City will be the the last stop before Jaquish’s proposed summer-long tour with Beyoncé.

But she’ll be holding a bat instead of a microphone, ready to do whatever her team needs even if it doesn’t quite fit with the persona of “The Queen.”

“It shows how selfless Sahvanna is and how she always puts the team before herself,” Griggs said. “I think that’s a really good testament to who she is as a person.”