STARKVILLE, Miss. – Tied at 1-1 and the winner advancing to the 2016 SEC Softball Tournament Championship Game, a two-strike, two-out two-run home run from senior Sandra Simmons propelled the No. 12 LSU softball team to a 3-1 win over the No. 10 Tennessee Volunteers in eight innings to send the team to its first tournament championship game since 2010.
In a rematch of last year’s conference tournament opener, the Tigers (45-14) scored the first run of the game like they did the last two, on a home run, in the first inning before holding on and weathering multiple Tennessee (41-14) rallies thanks to solid pitching in the circle from both Allie Walljasper and Carley Hoover, earning the squad its first extra-inning SEC Tournament win since 2007, the last time LSU claimed the tournament championship.
“My team was awesome today,” head coach Beth Torina said. “I’m proud of their fight, and their relentless pursuit to find a way to win that game. There were moments where they would have liked to have some at-bats back, but they never quit or stopped fighting. They call us the Fighting Tigers and this game was another example of that.”
Accounting for more than half of LSU’s hits for much of the game until the final three innings, fellow senior Bianka Bell finished the game going 2-for-3 with a towering solo home run in the very first inning to tie her for the team lead with 12. Simmons had two RBIs on her only hit, while Sahvanna Jaquish had a double and Emily Griggs with a hit and run scored.
Walljasper earned the start and scattered five hits and allowed just one run in 4.2 innings, as Hoover (18-7) came on with a bases-loaded jam in the fifth and got out of that inning and 3.1 total to earn her third win of the tournament scattering two hits with six strikeouts. Hoover has now matched her entire win total in the circle from 2015.
Tennessee pitcher Mattie Moss (12-4) suffered the loss pitching all eight innings against the Tigers, striking out seven with no walks in the complete-game effort. Brooke Vines was the only Volunteers player with multiple hits, as Tennessee finished with seven on Friday.
With two outs on the board, the LSU set the tone with one pitch and one at-bat, as Bell stepped into the box and roped the ball off the video scoreboard in left to give LSU the early 1-0 advantage.
In the bottom of the second, consecutive bunt singles put two Tennessee runners on base quickly. Walljasper came back with a strikeout, before an infield grounder put two outs on the board but put runners at second and third. A fly ball that seemed to keep tailing off was eventually caught by Amber Serrett on the left field grass for the third out to end the inning and keep the lead intact.
With two outs on the board in the bottom of the fourth, a double to the wall in left put a Tennessee runner on, with a walk to the next batter putting two on. Fortunately, Walljasper buckled down and got the next batter to pop up back to the circle to end the threat.
After an out in the bottom of the fifth, a high-chopping single up the middle put a Tennessee runner on. On the next play, a force out on the fielder’s choice put two outs on the board. But the game jumped up quickly as back-to-back walks loaded the bases for the Vols, as a hit batter brought in the game-tying run as Hoover came on in relief. She would get a strikeout to end the frame as UT left the bases loaded.
After a lineout in the top of the seventh, Jaquish doubled to left center to reach base for the first time on the day. Akiya Thymes came on to pinch run at second, and it looked like she would have an easy trot in as Kellsi Kloss skied one to the warning track in left getting caught in the wind before being caught for the second out. Thymes moved to third after a wild pitch, just steps away from scoring, but a strikeout ended the frame.
A leadoff double for Tennessee in the bottom half of the inning put the winning run at second. Hoover struck out the next batter, with a grounder to Jaquish now at first put two outs on the board but advanced the runner to third. With the game-winning run steps away, a weak chopper back to Hoover in the circle would be enough to end the inning to send it to extras.
After quick successive outs, Griggs came through with a single up the middle to reach first in the eighth. With two outs still on the board and two strikes, Simmons drilled one that continued to sail before eventually clearing the fence in center field for the two-run home run to give LSU the lead at 3-1.
Bell caught a popup in foul territory for the first out of the bottom of the eighth, but a double down the left field line put a Vols runner in scoring position. A grounder to Constance Quinn at second earned the force out at first for the second, as Hoover sealed the win with her sixth strikeout of the afternoon to end the inning and send LSU to the victory.
LSU will take on the winner of a matchup between top-seeded Florida and fourth-seeded Auburn at 4 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPN with Beth Mowins, Amanda Scarborough and Michelle Smith.
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.