STARKVILLE, Miss. – After suffering three losses by razor-thin margins during the regular season, the No. 12 LSU softball team went into Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup against No. 11 Kentucky with a different look and thanks to a three-run home run from the bat of senior Sandra Simmons the Tigers earned a 3-1 victory over the Wildcats Thursday to advance to the 2016 SEC Softball Tournament Semifinals.
With a combined six runs scored in the first three meetings between the two sides, the close-in-nature narrative continued for four more innings until Simmons was able to break through in the fifth for the Tigers (44-14), as the lead would never be in doubt when coupled with pitcher Carley Hoover’s dominant day in the circle to stifle the Wildcat (43-12) offense for much of the day.
“Kentucky is such a quality program and is so well coached with a great pitching staff that this win is huge for our team just because of the level of respect we have for them,” head coach Beth Torina said. “It’s a big deal for us to get a win against them, especially after the regular season, and I think it’ll do a lot for our team going forward.”
A pitcher’s duel from the start, Hoover (17-7) earned her second win of the tournament as she allowed just one run on three hits with five strikeouts and three walks on 99 pitches. Kentucky got multiple runners on base just once in the contest, earning two of its three hits in the bottom of the seventh before shutting the door and claiming the victory.
Simmons finished the game going 2-for-3, hitting her third home run of the season to drive in three, which followed singles from both Amber Serrett and Emily Griggs just before to open the frame. Sahvanna Jaquish had the other hit for the Tigers on the afternoon.
Not earning the start, but giving up the home run to Simmons was reliever Kelsey Nunley, the SEC Pitcher of the Year, who came on in relief of Megan Prince (19-5) and pitched the final 2.2 innings as she was tagged for just one run on the hit, striking out three in 2.2 innings. Prince suffered the loss and was credited for two runs on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
LSU finally got two runners on base for the first time on the afternoon in the fifth, as after a ground out Serrett looped a single to right to reach first. Griggs then followed with an infield single as Kentucky went to the bullpen to bring in Nunley. Unknowingly, it set the stage for Simmons who took the third pitch she saw and drilled it over the fence in right to break the scoreless tie and give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, a single through the left side put a Kentucky runner on base. However, a strikeout and fielder’s choice force out put two outs on the board. The Wildcats refused to quit, as a double to right center plated Kentucky’s first run to make it 3-1. The rally would be short-lived, as Hoover got the next batter to foul out to catcher Kellsi Kloss to end the game.
LSU will take on third-seeded Tennessee at 2 p.m. in the first semifinal game of the day in Starkville. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
For all of the latest news and information on Tiger softball, visit www.lsusports.net/softball. Fans can also follow the program on its social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball along with @lsusoftball and @BethTorina on Twitter and @lsusb on Instagram.