OKLAHOMA CITY — LSU senior first baseman Sandra Simmons ripped the sixth pitch of the game down the right field line and over the fence, setting the Tigers on an early path toward victory in Saturday’s Women’s College World Series elimination game against SEC rival Alabama.
But Simmons was far from the last Californian-turned-Cajun to make an impact for the Tigers, who lived to play another day in the WCWS after knocking off Alabama 6-4 Saturday afternoon.
Catcher Kellsi Kloss drove in another run in the third before LSU built a lead that turned out to be insurmountable in the fourth. That scoring flurry started when Simmons singled in a run and ended when junior Sahvanna Jaquish drove in two more with a double that extended LSU’s lead to 6-1.
Simmons and Kloss — both seniors — and Jaquish, a junior, all came to LSU from Southern California, the heart of Pac-12 country. For the vast majority of college softball history, teams from the Pac-12 — UCLA and Arizona mostly — have dominated the sport, but despite growing up in that area, all three chose LSU out of high school.
“My priority is just to find the best kids in the whole country,” said LSU coach Beth Torina. “We start in Louisiana and move out from that.
“So we love the state of California, we love the state of Louisiana, we just love having kids that bleed purple and gold putting on a uniform every day.”
Torina noted that she can’t take credit for Simmons and Kloss because both were committed before she accepted the LSU coaching job in 2011. But she did persuade Jaquish to join the Tigers a year later, and also recruited sophomore pitcher Allie Walljasper from the Golden State.
Simmons is batting .376 and Jaquish is at .349 on the season after Saturday’s game, good for second and third on the team in batting average, respectively. Kloss’ 10 home runs rank third on the team this season.
Walljasper is one of three pitchers in LSU’s rotation. She is 11-6 this season with a 1.75 ERA.
Simmons spent most of this season batting ninth in LSU’s lineup but was moved into the leadoff spot in April.
“When Beth moved her to the leadoff, that’s when they took off,” said Alabama coach Patrick Murphy.
Simmons only hit two home runs during the regular season, but after Saturday’s leadoff bomb, she has now hit four in the postseason alone.
“I think that she’s just a veteran player and understood her job was to lead us, and just maybe felt like somebody needed to step up and it was her spot to do it,” Torina responded when asked about Simmons’ postseason power surge.
“And she has led us in a huge way. She’s a special, special player for us. Big reason why we’re sitting here today is because of the effort she’s put in here at the end of the season.”
Of the 23 players on the LSU softball roster, 12 are from Louisiana. But the only other state with more than one is California.
“I enjoyed the atmosphere and culture that the team had,” Jaquish said. “I think the minute that we got there on our unofficials and visits, you could see what the team was like and it was a family away from is a family. That’s what I wanted.
“I wanted to go far away … but I still wanted to feel family and that’s what LSU did.”