BATON ROUGE, La. – After battling back to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth, the No. 25 LSU softball team found itself needing to do so again in the bottom of the seventh, but a bases loaded opportunity came up empty as the Tigers dropped the series finale to the Mississippi State Bulldogs 4-3 Sunday afternoon at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.
Rallying to score two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the contest at 3-3, the Bulldogs (38-18, 10-14 SEC) netted a solo home run to give the visitors the lead back in the top of the seventh. LSU (34-21, 13-11) had an opportunity then, as well as a couple more times throughout the contest, to battle back but ended up stranding three of their nine nine total base runners in the game in the loss to snap the team’s season-long seven game winning streak.
Even in the loss, LSU still locked up the sixth seed and a first-round bye in the 2014 SEC Softball Tournament which begins on Wednesday at the Carolina Softball Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, and will take on No. 3 seeded Missouri at 10 a.m. CT on ESPNU.
“We were in it until the last pitch. We fought hard throughout the game,” head coach Beth Torina said. “We just didn’t get a lot of breaks, and a few things didn’t go our way. It happens. They have been playing great lately. I don’t think it will change the way we feel right now and our confidence going into the SEC tournament.”
LSU got a pair of hits from senior Jacee Blades and junior A.J. Andrews, as Blades went 2-for-3 and Andrews went 2-for-4. LSU outhit the Bulldogs 9-6 over the course of the game, as Allison Falcon went 1-for-2 with an RBI and run scored, while Tammy Wray went 1-for-3 with an RBI. The heart of the order also produced as Sahvanna Jaquish went 1-for-4, Bianka Bell went 1-for-2 with a run scored and two walks and Kellsi Kloss going 1-for-4 with a run scored.
“Obviously this loss hurt all of us,” Blades said. “. Friday and Saturday we finally saw the potential we have. We know what we can do now. Anyone on the team can step up and do something. You never know who it will be, and it’s a great thing to be a part of. I am really excited about the SEC tournament.”
Although her three-start winning streak came to an end, senior pitcher Ashley Czechner still had a solid outing as she went the distance allowing four runs on six hits with six strikeouts and one walk on 131 pitches. Czechner retired nine of the first 13 batters she faced in the first three innings of the game, eventually giving up all four runs in the final four innings of the contest.
“She did a nice job. I thought she threw better earlier in the game,” Torina said. “She had some Sunday struggles early in the game. She did a nice job making changes there and keeping us in it until the end. She just gave up that big one in the end.”
Mississippi State starter Alison Owen earned a no-decision after pitching 5.1 innings and giving up three runs, two earned, with two walks and three strikeouts, exiting the game in favor of Alexis Silkwood who pitched the final 1.2 and gave up just two hits with a walk and strikeout in holding on for the win. MSU’s Caroline Seitz was the difference for the Bulldogs as she went 3-for-3 with a double, home run and two RBI, hitting the solo shot in the seventh.
In the bottom of the first after a strikeout, Blades earned an infield single and on the resulting low throw moved to second on the error. A grounder to second advanced her to third, as Bell drew a walk to put runners at the corners. Unfortunately, a swinging strikeout ended the inning keeping the game scoreless.
After an out in foul territory, Falcon got hit on the second pitch of her at-bat to take first. Things took a weird turn quickly as with a 2-2 count, Wray hit a high-flying shot to left that cleared the fence that looked to be a two-run bomb, but after a meeting of the umpires as the two were rounding third, it was deemed that Wray would be called out at first on an interference call with Falcon scoring to make it 1-0 on a single to left.
The Bulldogs used a small-ball approach in the top of the fourth, as a double down the left field line and hit batter put two on for Mississippi State. A sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third as a wild pitch and sacrifice fly plated both of the runs to make it 2-1 MSU. The Bulldogs would get another run in the top of the fifth on an RBI single up the middle to take a 3-1 lead.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Andrews ended a streak of seven consecutive LSU batters retired when she looped a single into left field. Blades drew a walk to put two on, but a foul out to first base ended the frame for LSU.
The Tigers came back in the bottom of the sixth looking to try and get anything going, with Bell sending a shot to left to take first. Kloss followed up with a single through the left side to put two on, as a grounder by Sandra Simmons advanced the two to second and third. Falcon smoked one through the left side to score Bell to make it 3-2 and put runners at the corners.
On the next play, Falcon stole second and the throw in from the MSU catcher was misplayed at second and allowed Kloss to score with Falcon moving to third to tie the game at 3-3.
With one out, Seitz homered on a 1-1 pitch to left to give the Bulldogs the lead back at 4-3 in the top of the seventh, with the next two going down in order to send the game to the final frame of regulation.
Andrews led off the bottom half of the final frame with a single to first base. After a foul out to the catcher, Jaquish singled off of the glove of the pitcher to put two on safely. Bell was walked intentionally to load the bases to put the winning run at second, but consecutive strikeouts ended the game.
Below is a complete schedule for next week’s conference tournament hosted by the University of South Carolina.
Wednesday, May 7
G1: #7 Kentucky vs. #10 Mississippi State – 3 p.m.
G2: #8 South Carolina vs. #9 Auburn – 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 8
G3: #3 Missouri vs. #6 LSU – 10 a.m.
G4: #2 Tennessee vs. Winner G1 – 12:30 p.m.
G5: #4 Florida vs. #5 Georgia – 3 p.m.
G6: #1 Alabama vs. Winner G2 – 5:30 p.m.
Friday, May 9
G7: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner – 2 p.m.
G8: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 10
Championship Game -- Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner – 7 p.m.
LSU HEAD COACH BETH TORINA
On today’s loss to Mississippi State…
“We were in it until the last pitch. We fought hard throughout the game. We just didn’t get a lot of breaks, and a few things didn’t go our way. It happens. They have been playing great lately. I don’t think it will change the way we feel right now and our confidence going into the SEC tournament.”
On Ashley Czechner’s pitching performance today…
“She did a nice job. I thought she threw better earlier in the game. She had some Sunday struggles early in the game. She did a nice job making changes there and keeping us in it until the end. She just gave up that big one in the end.”
On preparing for the SEC Tournament…
“We are the six seed in the tournament. We play Missouri, and we are looking forward to it. They are someone we haven’t seen all year. We will do our homework and be prepared. It is nice to get a new look at a different face. It is nice in the SEC not playing everyone. You get to the tournament and get to see someone like that. They are a very quality program and have a great freshman pitcher. They did some really good things all season long. We have our work cut out for us.”
LF JACEE BLADES
On today’s loss to Mississippi State…
“Obviously this loss hurt all of us. Friday and Saturday we finally saw the potential we have. We know what we can do now. Anyone on the team can step up and do something. You never know who it will be, and it’s a great thing to be a part of. I am really excited about the SEC tournament.”
On LSU’s hitting confidence….
“I think everyone’s confidence is up, even going down the line when high-fiving. Normally, the person who gets the big hit gets a great job and high-five. I now realize I am doing it to every single person now. I think that says a lot.”
On preparing for the SEC Tournament…
“I think the most important thing is to forget about this last loss. The most important game is the next one. We have schoolwork to finish. We will get that out of the way and be all softball concentrated. We will be ready to go for the end of the season.”