TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Brittany Mack limited the high-octane Florida offense to a run on two hits, but that was enough to propel the seventh-ranked Gators to post a 1-0 victory over the LSU softball team in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament held at Rhoads Stadium on the University of Alabama campus.
Florida (45-10) will advance to Friday's first semifinal to face either No. 5 Tennessee or Auburn, while the Tigers (34-22) await their NCAA Tournament destination handed out by the selection committee Sunday 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
"We just came up short on the offensive side," head coach Beth Torina said. "I thought we pitched a really good game and held a really quality offensive team to one run and two hits. It was a well-played game. Honestly, we just didn't come up with the timely hit. We had a lot of runners on-base and just missed that one timely hit to win it."
The Gators manufactured the game's only run during the fifth inning. Bailey Castro drew a four-pitch, opening walk and pinch runner Briana Little scooted into second base on Katie Medina's sacrifice bunt. Two batters later and with two outs, Sami Fagan chopped a RBI single over the head of Mack and into centerfield on a hit-and-run play to score Little.
Lauren Haeger retired the final seven LSU batters she faced to secure the 1-0 victory. The SEC All-Freshman pick tallied eight strikeouts and worked around five walks to improve to 14-4 on the season.
LSU's defense turned two spectacular inning-ending double plays to keep Florida off the scoreboard in the second and third innings.
With the bases loaded and one out in the second, Medina ripped a line drive down the first base line which was snagged by Dylan Supak. She alertly turned around, dove and tagged the bag to end the frame.
Mack used all of her 5-11 frame to snag a soft line drive by Cheyenne Coyle and fired a strike to shortstop Juliana Santos, who tagged Kasey Fagan to stop the threat.
Mack, the SEC's Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year, notched four strikeouts versus three walks in her five-plus innings of work before giving way to Rachele Fico, who sat Florida down in 1-2-3 fashion during the sixth inning after a Haeger leadoff single.
With the tough-luck loss, Mack dropped to 14-11 for the season. The senior right-hander has received only 12 runs of support in her 11 setbacks.
LSU collected two hits, singles by Morgan Russell and Cassie Trosclair. The Tigers filled the bases during the second and fifth innings. However, Haeger wiggled out of trouble with a strikeout of A.J. Andrews on three pitches and an Allison Falcon fly out.
"I think that hitting is so much about mentality," Torina said. "The fact that we continue to struggle and struggle is of course going to affect their mentality. The strongest people are Brittany Mack and Rachele Fico. They don't get beat. They don't stop fighting. I don't know another pitcher in the country that could put out those kinds of performances with that kind of pressure. They do a great job, so hats off to those two without question."
"We have been trying different things to get the offense back and confident - different things in practice and different types of batting practice," Torina continued. "We will try to think of something new this week to go back and get them ready for NCAAs. It's tough when you are facing this caliber of pitching day-in and day-out in the SEC."
With a RPI rating of 25 entering the week, LSU will receive an at-large berth in next week's NCAA Regionals. The 16 four-team sites will be announced Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
Every LSU postseason game will have live audio and live stats available inside the Geaux Zone on LSUsports.net. The games also will be carried live on Country Legends 104.9 FM in the Baton Rouge area with Patrick Wright and Matt Dunaway set to call the action.
Fans can follow every pitch of LSU softball this season via live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsu_softball on Twitter.
HEAD COACH BETH TORINA
Opening Statement: "We just came up short on the offensive side. I thought we pitched a really good game and held a really quality offensive team to one run and two hits. It was a well-played game. Honestly, we just didn't come up with the timely hit. We had a lot of runners on base and just missed that one timely hit to win it."
On getting ready for the postseason:
"I think that hitting is so much about mentality. The fact that we continue to struggle and struggle is of course going to affect their mentality. The strongest people are Brittany Mack and Rachele Fico. They don't get beat. They don't stop fighting. I don't know another pitcher in this conference that could put out those kinds of performances with that kind of pressure. They do a great job, so hats off to those two without question. We have been trying different things to get the offense back and confident - different things in practice and different types of batting practice. We will try to think of something new this week to go back and get them ready. It's tough when you are facing this caliber of pitching day-in and day-out in the SEC."
On different lineups:
"We have had 35 different lineups. I know in the beginning I tried to give a ton of people a spot in the line-up. I also wanted those who did earn a spot to feel confident and not keep looking over their shoulder wondering if they were going to play today. I gave them a lot of opportunities to earn a spot and once they did, I tried to let them play as much as I could. I tried a lot of different people in practice. We have tried different people at different spots, and we will keep trying it and hopefully it will pay off next week."
#2, Juliana Santos, Shortstop
On her frustration: "It was very frustrating. We just have to keep working at this point. But the game is over with and we just have to learn from it and really work hard next week and come up big in regionals."
#44, Brittany Mack, Pitcher
On what was working for her: "(Our) defense was great. We had two double plays, which is unbelievable. We have not been able to get many in games. Either teams would have really fast runners or we just wouldn't be quick enough. But the fact that we were able to get two in today's game means our defense was great. The curve ball was really working well, they really struggled with it."
HEAD COACH TIM WALTON
"Great opening round, obviously, it was very similar in style to the games we played last time in Gainesville a couple of weeks ago. Two good pitching staffs. I thought that both pitchers really did a good job. (Rachele) Fico came in for them at the end and did a good job. It was kind of what I expected; it was a low-scoring game, with good pitching and good defense. Whoever got the biggest, timeliest hit - obviously Sami Fagan was able to get that for us - that was key. I thought our approach was good. With the two different styles of pitchers, they did a good job."
On what he wanted to get across to his team the past few days after the Alabama series:
"I didn't think we played particularly well on Saturday, but I thought we played well on Sunday. I thought we played well on Friday. Facing a team like that, in an environment like that was good. I thought we responded really well. I think Lauren Haeger said it best yesterday when she said our team had some fight, and they showed fight. They showed some energy and some passion. With that, she got the start today."
On if he was worried about not scoring:
"I guess you could say yes. If you can get it to the spot where the first five hitters were in a scoring position, obviously you feel a little more confident based on their scoring averages and on-base percentages and chances. I just think sometimes it's wrong player/wrong time. We're trying to get some of those younger players used to it. Katie Medina scorched the ball. She hit the ball hard. It was nice to see her hit the ball hard even though it was a double play. It was still a good bases loaded at-bat for her. We're just trying to season these players into understanding the "lose and go home" mentality. It changes your swing a little bit."
#17, Lauren Haeger, Pitcher
On what was working for her today:
"I was excited to get the start. I hadn't had a start all weekend, and I felt good that Coach had confidence in me to have the ball the first round in the first game. I was hitting my spots really well and getting ahead, which is something that I've been working on for a while."
On when she found out she'd be starting:
"I found out when we were warming up. Coach (Jennifer) Rocha came up to me and told me I was starting. From then on, I just had to have my mind set and my mind right."
On what this does for her confidence:
"It always helps coming out with the win and pitching well. It always helps with confidence. I've just worked really hard this season, making adjustments so that I could help my team in the postseason after struggling at the beginning of the season."
#51, Sami Fagan, 3B
On what practice has been like the past few days:
"I think every practice we have the same mindset. We're just attacking every part of our game and getting ready for the team that we're going to play."
On what it felt like to break through and not have a long game:
"Before my at-bat, Coach (Tim Walton) and I talked and we made a game plan for that at-bat. I was just trying to execute it as well as possible. It felt really good not to have to go to extra innings."
On what the game plan was:
"He asked me if I was going to hit or slap. I said slap and he said that the shortstop was playing over, so I should try to slap it up the middle. That's what I did."