COLUMBIA, S.C. – After battling back to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, the No. 25 and sixth-seeded LSU softball team was nearly out of an inning with a chance to win it in extras, but instead a two-RBI double put the Tigers on the ropes and it would be too much to overcome in the end as the team fell to the seventh-seeded and 16th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats 4-3 in the semifinals of the 2014 SEC Softball tournament in South Carolina.
Trailing for much of the contest, the Tigers (35-22) were able to withstand and eventually claw its way back into the game late, but free passes came back to haunt the team unexpectedly in the end as the Tigers would get a run back in the bottom of the ninth on a Tammy Wray home run, but that would be it as LSU stranded seven runners on base to Kentucky’s (44-14) eight, as the Wildcats were held to just two hits.
“I thought Kentucky played really well today, and I have a lot of respect for their pitcher and their program,” head softball coach Beth Torina said. “They did a really good job keeping us off balance throughout the game. On our side I think we gave up too many free passes, and a lot of things we did to ourselves.”
At one point, Bailey Landry accounted for half of LSU’s hits, finishing the game as the only Tiger with multiple hits as she went 2-for-4 with the game-tying RBI in the bottom of the seventh to send the game to extras. The Tigers got six hits overall on the day as Wray was 1-for-3 with her third home run of the season with an RBI and run scored, while A.J. Andrews hit her sixth triple of the season in a 1-for-5 day with a run scored. Bianka Bell went 1-for-4 with an RBI, while Constance Quinn went 1-for-4 as well.
“I felt like this was a big tournament, so I had to step up, and I just wanted to play my best and give the team a chance to be successful,” Landry said.
After looking shaky in the early three innings, freshman hurler Baylee Corbello settled down and held the Wildcats in check offensively and fared valiantly in the loss, snapping her five-start winning streak in the process, after giving up four runs, two earned, on two hits with eight strikeouts. Corbello threw 160 pitches in the game and at one point retired 16 Kentucky batters in order, but was done in by five total walks and four hit batters.
“Honestly, I have to eliminate the free passes and learn to go right at batters,” Corbello said. “We didn’t gain momentum quickly enough, but I think our team did a great job of rallying and fighting through to the end.”
Kentucky’s Kelsey Nunley, who has thrown every pitch in the tournament, earned the complete-game win after going all nine innings and giving up three runs on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts on 138 pitches. Silver Samuel was the one to put the game away on her double in the ninth to make it 4-2 and help the Wildcats to the victory.
Kentucky got two runners on base in the very first inning and was threatening again in the second as a walk and hit batter put two on for the Wildcats with just one out. It was tense as Corbello got her second strikeout of the inning to put the second out on the board, getting the final to go down looking to end the threat.
The Wildcats finally broke through in the third after continuing to plug away at the Tigers, as an error, hit batter and walk loaded the bases for UK with an infield popup being the only out. The first Kentucky run came via a walk to make it 1-0, as a fielder’s choice grounder to Simmons was able to force out the runner at home, but not before an outstanding defensive play where a single dropped into short center to bring in another while Andrews threw out the second at the plate to end the frame.
Andrews finally gave LSU a shot of life offensively as she drilled a shot that fell fair down the left field line and bounced off the wall as she trotted in for the triple. After a grounder to third for the first out, Jaquish was intentionally walked to put runners at the corners. The Tigers finally got something to go their way as an error at third allowed Andrews to score to make it 2-1 as Bell took first with Jaquish moving to second. After an infield popup, Simmons drew a walk to load the bases, but a grounder to short ended the inning.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Jaquish drew a walk to take first. Bell followed up with a ripped single to left to put two on for the Tigers, as Alex Boulet moved to second as she came in to pinch run. However, a fly out to right and grounder back to the circle ended the inning for LSU.
Falcon got hit on the arm to take first, and was replaced on the bases by Heyward to pinch run. In an unusual spot, Wray put down a sacrifice bunt to perfection for the out but no one accounted for Heyward who moved to second and then third on the same play. She would come in on the very next play as Landry hit a high-chopping single over third base to bring in the reserve and tie the game at 2-2.
After a scoreless eighth, LSU got the first two outs of the inning before a walk and hit batter put two on for the Wildcats. That proved to be costly as Samuel doubled left center to drive in two and put Kentucky back on top 4-2.
With one out after a grounder to third, Wray came through and took a 2-0 pitch over the fence in left field to make it 4-3, but consecutive strikeouts ended the game and LSU’s run in the tournament.
The Tigers will now await selection for a berth in the NCAA Regional round which will take place next weekend at sites to be determined. Selections will be officially announced on the NCAA Selection Show which will be televised on ESPNU at 9 p.m. Sunday night.