TALLAHASSEE, Fla.Â â Even if coach Beth Torina canât fully explain it, the LSU softball team seems to find comfort in discomfort.
Never mind that the Tigers had dropped the first game of the NCAA tournament’s Tallahassee super regional to Florida State, needing Allie Walljasper to throw a one-hit shutout in Saturdayâs Game 2 to force Sunday’s winner-take-all matchup.
There was certainly pressure there, too. But that was nothing like what Carley Hoover saw in the sixth inning during LSUâs 6-4 win in Game 3, which sent the Tigers to the Womenâs College World Series for the third straight year.
“Carley is just so good in these situations,” Torina said. “She is just unreal with the game on the line. She just shuts the door. She strikes more people out than Allie, so it is better to bring her in off the bench with runners on base. I thought that might be the best scenario, and it worked out for us.â
Hoover pitched around trouble when she replaced Walljasper in the fourth inning. Florida State had scored two runs to cut the Tigersâ lead to 5-3 that inning, and runners were at second and third base with two outs after Hoover fired a wild pitch. But Florida State’s Alex Powers, who already had two doubles, popped out to shortstop Amber Serrett.
Hoover’s best escape trick came two innings later, when the junior right-hander loaded the bases on a leadoff double and two walks. Jessie Warren, the Seminolesâ leader in RBIs and home runs who moved up to the leadoff spot for Game 3, came to the plate, but she grounded into a fielder’s choice at home.
And after Ellie Cooper sent an RBI sacrifice fly to right field, cutting the Tigersâ lead to one, Powers chopped a ball back to Hoover for the final out.
âWhen the bases were loaded and (Warren) was up, it wasnât, like, the best situation ever,” Hoover deadpanned. “And then (the at-bat) started off with a ball, so that was even worse. But then we threw a change of speed. Luckily, she rolled over, and momentum was back in our hands.
“This time of year, weâre not going to be perfect, we may not be pretty, but a win is a win right now, so Iâm happy with it.â
Hooverâs 3.2 innings of relief, allowing just one run, secured the Tigersâ fourth trip to Oklahoma City in Torinaâs tenure and a date with UCLA in the opening round Thursday.
It completed the Tigers’ wild ride through the regional and super regional rounds; they needed three wins in less than 24 hours just to capture the Baton Rouge regional title. But it was more than just Hooverâs relief that let LSU reach its sixth Womenâs College World Series.
The Tigers, who had only one run on seven hits in the first two games of the super regional, finally solved Florida State pitching Sunday. LSU tagged Jessica Burroughs and Meghan King, pitchers with sub-2.00 ERAs, for six runs on 10 hits.
The outburst came on a record day for two LSU seniors. Catcher Sahvanna Jaquish had four RBIs, pushing her into the top 10 on the NCAAâs all-time list. With 267 in her career, she is three RBIs away from breaking the SEC record.
Jaquish’s two-run double down the left-field line gave the Tigers the lead in the second inning. Her efforts earned her an ice bath after the game.
âItâs unreal,” she said. “Itâs still surreal to me. I close my eyes and I replay the last play over and over again, dogpiling. I wouldnât want to be in any other position with any other players.â
Another senior, Bailey Landry, added a critical insurance run in the seventh, driving an RBI triple into the left-center gap to score speedy pinch runner Nicky Dawson. With that hit, Landry took sole possession of first place on the programâs career hit list with 291.
Since the super regional era began in 2005, LSU is the first team to win three super regionals on the road and the first team to win back-to-back super regionals away from home. All have come under Torina.
âIt has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the players sitting next to me and the players who have worn this uniform,” the sixth-year coach said. “I just write a lineup every day. These guys are the ones who go out and play ball. They are the ones who continue to write the history of this program. I took over a fantastic program.
“A Hall of Famer (former coach Yvette Girouard) handed me this program in the most beautiful stadium in the country. We have players who work hard and want to represent LSU to the best of their ability, and they are the ones who should get all of the credit.â