BATON ROUGE, La. — When LSU softball fell into the loser’s bracket of the Baton Rouge regional after dropping its second-round game against Louisiana-Lafayette, Tigers coach Beth Torina challenged her team to make history.
“It will make a much better story,” Torina said of taking the long road.
Her Tigers seemed to agree that drama is more fun. LSU completed its path from the brink with a 5-1 win over in-state rival Louisiana-Lafayette on Monday afternoon.
LSU’s road to the championship wasn’t elongated just because the Tigers needed to win elimination games against McNeese State and ULL on Sunday. Rain wreaked havoc on the regional all weekend, delaying games on Saturday and Sunday by an identical 6 hours, 29 minutes.
It’s also a historically significant championship for LSU. The last three times the Tigers were paired with ULL in a regional — 2008, 2010 and 2013 — the Ragin’ Cajuns ended LSU’s season. The teams had not played each other since that last meeting in 2013.
When Carley Hoover walked out of the bullpen with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blaring, a grim situation turned into a great one for LSU.
“There’s times in a game where you need that momentum switch, that pick-me-up moment,” Torina said. “And she was able to give it to us.”
The Tigers were on the ropes in the top of the third. ULL was up 1-0 with runners at first and second, nobody out and the nation’s top power hitter stepping up to the plate in DJ Sanders.
Hoover, who threw 225 pitches in two complete games Sunday, promptly struck Sanders out looking. She then got Corin Voniche to hit a bouncer to LSU second baseman Constance Quinn, who stepped on the bag and gunned the ball to first for an inning-ending double play. It was the first of three double plays the Tigers turned behind Hoover in the game.
“[The strikeout] was really big, but it was also really cool because regardless if I gave up a walk or a single, my defense was there,” Hoover said. “We turned a lot of double plays, and props to coach because we knew how to attack every single batter this weekend.”
LSU softball players of the game
She allowed no runs on four hits in 5 innings of relief, striking out three. In the last three games of the regional, Hoover pitched 18 innings and allowed two runs (one earned) in the course of 24 hours.
“I’m very tired,” Hoover said. “But the game is over, so it’s OK.”
The LSU center fielder saw an absurd streak of 10 consecutive at-bats with a hit come to an end when she grounded out to short in the bottom of the sixth. Griggs finished 3-for-4 with 2 RBI in the championship game.
“I would have to say I’m just really not thinking,” Griggs said. “It’s probably not a good answer. But going up there with a clear mind — I’ve prepared and watched the film all season to go up there and be confident.”
Home run controversy
When two teams refuse to play each other for five seasons because of hard feelings, controversy is never far away. Sure enough, it came to the forefront on a key play in the fourth inning.
LSU freshman Sydney Springfield’s two-run home run down the left-field line was not seen as one by the Cajuns, who felt the ball curved behind the foul pole before landing over the wall in apparent fair territory. The final ruling on fair or foul was made by home plate umpire Emerus Addison.
A foul in three pictures. Freeze frames CLEARLY show the ball hooked the left, outside part of foul pole. They blew this horribly. pic.twitter.com/fHzbQLI7r2
— Travis Webb (@travisjwebb) May 22, 2017
Springfield’s blast was a crucial tension-breaking moment for the Tigers, extending LSU’s lead to 4-1.
ULL coach Michael Lotief saw the call as an opportunity to make a lengthy and impassioned argument that umpiring crews should be expanded from three to four members for the postseason.
“I’ve been an advocate for four umpires on the field for the last five or six years. We’ve done it in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The Sun Belt Conference!” Lotief said incredulously. “When we get to the College World Series we still have three umpires. We pay for an [alternate] umpire to be here and he’s sitting in the stands. We could have had umpire at third, second and first.
“I’ve been knowing that home plate umpire my whole life. No doubt he called it how he saw it. But seeing it from home and running down the line is completely different. The rationale not to change the rule — the coaches are mixed on whether to support it, umpires are against it because it messes their rotation. I think it takes away from the game and puts these umpires in a tough situation.
“In conference, I understand financially that is the way we have to do it. In the postseason it should be four-to-six umpires. If you put an extra umpire on the field, it gives more opportunities for umpires. Put two female umpires on the field down the line. We had none this weekend.
“Human error is part of the game. He called it the way he saw it. I didn’t see it; I was in the dugout. If it’s right, it’s right. If it’s wrong, they still beat us. LSU is the regional champion. The call did not affect the outcome of the game. But it gave me a good platform for something near and dear to my heart, but I haven’t been able to get traction.”
What’s next for LSU softball?
The Tigers will try to reach their third straight Women’s College World Series, but they’ve got to go on the road to do it. LSU faces No. 4 national seed Florida State on its home turf in the Tallahassee Super Regional.
“They’re definitely one of the best teams in the country,” Torina said. “Obviously we’ll have our work cut out for us… I can’t think of a spot in the country where you can send us at this point that will be easy, though. Everyone got there for a reason. You’re going to have to play your best softball in order to get through this round.”