BATON ROUGE, La. – Thanks to a pair of runs midway through and the seventh combined shutout in LSU postseason history, the No. 10 LSU softball team advanced to the NCAA Super Regional round for the fifth time in program history with a 2-0 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils Sunday afternoon at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.
After earning two wins to book a spot on Championship Sunday, the Tigers (48-15) got a dominant effort in the circle first with Allie Walljasper (10-5), while Carley Hoover, the regional most valuable player, came on in relief and earned her second save of the season after earning wins on Friday and Saturday as they held Arizona State (32-26) to just four hits on the afternoon. The LSU defense also had an impeccable day, committing no errors and having some big plays to keep the Sun Devils off of the board.
“Congratulations to Arizona State on a great season. Obviously they fought hard down to the last pitch, and their center fielder making that catch capped off the way they played the entire regional. They really fought hard,” head coach Beth Torina said. “I’m proud of my team. I’m proud that we stayed in it, and I thought we capitalized on some opportunities. I thought we did a decent job of moving runners up.”
Bailey Landry was 2-for-4 on the afternoon, as Sandra Simmons was 1-for-2 with a double, Bianka Bell going 1-for-3, Walljasper going 1-for-2 and Constance Quinn going 1-for-4. Sahvanna Jaquish drove in one of the two runs on the day with a run scored and drove in five on the weekend, while Simmons scored the other run on an error.
“I really think our team has a tremendous amount of battle in them. I think that’s what we’ve worked on since day one, from how to fight and to never give up,” Simmons said. “Whether you win 300 to nothing or one to nothing, little things always make a big difference in the games. I think we did the little things right this weekend, and you can expect us to continue to do that.”
While it was the seventh combined shutout by two pitchers in program history, it was the 21st overall for LSU in the NCAA tournament and first since Hoover’s against Arizona last season in the super regional. Walljasper pitched 5.1 innings and struck out four with one walk, scattering three hits on 72 pitches, while Hoover pitched the remaining 1.2 innings and gave up just a hit with a walk and a strikeout.
“(Allie) did a great job. She really had them off‐balance I thought for the majority of the day,” Torina said. “Also a great performance on the mound with Carley (Hoover) coming in to shut the door.”
Kelsey Kessler (16-13) suffered the loss for Arizona State, allowing two runs, one earned, on five hits with two strikeouts and five walks in four innings, as she started every game for the Sun Devils on the weekend. Dale Ryndak pitched the next three after that, walking three and allowing a hit. The duo combined to walk eight LSU batters on the afternoon, tying the LSU record for most received in a game.
In the top of the second, consecutive walks to Jaquish and Kellsi Kloss quickly put two LSU runners on base. Walljasper fooled the defense by coming through with the sacrifice bunt, as the errant throw from the circle allowed Jaquish to score to make it 1-0, with Kloss moving to third on the play. A grounder advanced Walljasper to third, but a line out, throw out double play ended the inning.
In the bottom of the second, a leadoff double to right center put a Sun Devil runner on base, with a grounder to third keeping the runner at bay. A walk put two ASU runners on, but Walljasper sat down the next two with back-to-back strikeouts to get out of the inning and end the threat.
A walk to Kloss put an LSU runner on base to open the fourth, as Taylor Lockwood came on to pinch run at first. Walljasper advanced Lockwood to second on a sacrifice bunt, as Quinn singled up the middle and advanced to second on the throw in to put runners at second and third. Unfortunately, a shallow fly and strikeout ended LSU’s threat.
Simmons led off the top of the fifth with a double that one-hopped off the wall in center to open the frame. Landry caught the defense sleeping and had a bunt single to reach, putting Tiger runners at the corners. A walk to Bell ended Kessler’s day, as Ryndak came on in relief.
Jaquish nearly poked one through the right side of the defense, but a diving stop kept the ball on the dirt as Simmons scored anyway to make it a 2-0 game. However, a pop fly to short and foul out to first ended LSU’s charge.
An infield single for Arizona State put a Sun Devil runner on in the bottom of the sixth, as after a grounder to short, a single to right center put runners at the corners, as Hoover came on in relief. A walk loaded the bases for ASU, as on the very next play a liner to Landry in right was the second out as she rifled in the throw home to get the runner at the plate for the double play to end the inning.
“Like Carley mentioned earlier, we’ve practiced the sacrifice play every day,” Landry said. “It would be more of a pressure situation, but I feel more comfortable in that situation because it’s familiar. I knew once I caught it I had to make a good throw, and Kellsi (Kloss) did a great job of tagging the runner at home.”
LSU will now advance to the super regional round, traveling to take on James Madison on Friday and Saturday, May 27-28, in a best-of-three series with the winner advancing to the 2016 Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Game 1 will be Friday at 1 p.m. CT on ESPNU; Game 2 will be Saturday at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN, with Game 3 to follow if necessary on ESPNU.
“I really liked how we battled throughout. You know this time of the year you just need to find a way to win, and our team has done a great job of doing that,” Torina said. “We’re able to win in many different ways. We can win with a shutout on the mound, or by scoring a lot of runs. That’s why we’re tough to beat. I liked the way we battled, and I’ll take a win any way we can get one.”
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2016 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional All-Tournament Team
Carley Hoover – LSU (MVP)
Sahvanna Jaquish - LSU
Kelsey Kessler – Arizona State
Bailey Landry – LSU
Erika Piancastelli – McNeese State
Dale Ryndak – Arizona State
Sandra Simmons – LSU
Jenn Soria – Arizona State
Emily Vincent – McNeese State
Whitney West – LIU Brooklyn