In a game they absolutely had to have, the No. 6 LSU softball team scored seven straight runs after falling behind early to claim the regular season finale over No. 8 Auburn by a 7-1 score on Sunday afternoon at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.
With the win, the Tigers (44-10, 15-9 Southeastern) claims the No. 4 seed and a bye in the 2015 SEC Softball Tournament which begins Wednesday morning in Baton Rouge. LSU will play the winner of Kentucky and Tennessee, a match up of the No. 5 and No. 12 seeds on Thursday evening.
After struggling through two frustrating contests, LSU pounded out 10 hits on the afternoon, more than the two teams combined to have in either of the first two games, as the Tigers opened the scoring in the third and put up runs straight through the sixth to pull ahead and stay ahead for good to pull out the win in the final regular season home contest of 2015.
"What started is that we executed the bunt. We were able to bunt in that one inning which we hadn't done all weekend long and I think getting the slappers on base and having them execute some things really set us some moments for us," head coach Beth Torina said. "We talked about trying to keep them in the zone, trying to swing in the zone and not chase pitches out of the zone. Without going back and looking at the film I feel like we did a much better job at that."
The slapper group of Emily Griggs, A.J. Andrews and Bailey Landry combined for five of LSU's 10 hits, with Landry going 2-for-3 with an RBI and run scored, while Andrews went 2-for-4 with a run scored, and Griggs going 1-for-3 with three runs scored.
Sandra Simmons hit her third home run of the season, a solo effort in the fourth amid her two hits and two RBIs, while Bianka Bell drove in two on her 18th double of the season and received two walks. Sahvanna Jaquish and Kellsi Kloss each drove in a run on each of their only hits of the game.
"Our goal is to win every series but obviously that didn't happen, but winning today was a pride thing," Simmons said. "It means so much to get that win going into the SEC to get us back on a roll."
The win also helped preserve another standout pitching performance in the circle, as freshman Carley Hoover (14-4) tied her career high with 12 strikeouts as she scattered five hits with a run allowed and five walks. The Clemson, South Carolina, native had eight through the first three innings alone, as she retired the side twice, tossing 134 pitches.
"Every inning I just kept trying to compete, come out there a new person, a new pitcher, a different beast," Hoover said. "I thought Kellsi really kept me in the game too. She was doing a great job. We weren't getting necessarily every call behind the plate but she was really fighting for me, but that drives me."
Marcy Harper (10-4) suffered the loss after allowing three runs, on five hits, with two strikeouts and three walks in four innings. Auburn (46-9, 18-6) used three pitchers on the day and all struggled with walks, as the trio of Harper, Rachael Walters and Lexi Davis combined to dish out seven free passes to LSU batters. Carlee Wallace had two hits for Auburn, while Tiffany Howard drove in Auburn's only run.
Auburn was the first to strike the earliest blow for the third time on the weekend, as the visitors earned two hits in the top of the second to score one, but the damage was limited as they did it with two outs and leaving two on in the process.
LSU finally broke through in the bottom of the third, as LSU's first hit came from the bat of Griggs on a single to left. A bunt single by Andrews and another by Landry quickly loaded the bases for the Tigers with no outs on the board and threatening.
Bell came up to the plate looking to break the game open and ripped one to right center, looking like it cleared the fence and came back in off of a set of bleachers, being ruled a double as two runs scored but Bell was caught up going to third while Landry was put out at home to give LSU the lead a 2-1 but put two outs on the board, with the third coming on the next play.
"It was a big moment. She's been our offensive leader. She's been the one that we expect to do that," Torina said. "Having her step up and do it, I hate to say that's what we expect from her, but I think that's how our team feels about her and that's a credit to the season she's had."
After scoring in that previous inning, the Tigers struck again in the very next frame, as with a 3-2 count, Simmons roped one to that nearly same spot that Bell did, this time completely clearing everything for the solo home run to give LSU a 3-1 lead over Auburn after four.
A walk to Griggs and Landry with an out sandwiched in between put two on for LSU in the bottom of the fifth. After another out, Jaquish started the hit parade with a ripped shot to left to score Griggs to make it 4-1. Kloss followed suit with a shot to score Landry to make it 5-1, as Simmons did the same to score Jaquish as LSU went up 6-1 at that point.
Auburn was looking to cut into the deficit with a runner at second in the top of the sixth, but with two outs a single to left looked to bring the run in, but Griggs let loose a laser to Kloss at home to put out the runner and end the inning.
"My defense was playing amazing and that drives me as well," Hoover said. "It's not hard going out there and competing when we're putting out runs like we did today. It was really cool to see our best go in today."
In the bottom of that same inning with one out, a walk to Sydney Bourg put one on for LSU, but she was put out on a fielder's choice at second on a Griggs chopper. A single by Andrews put two on for the Tigers, as Landry came through with a single up the middle to plate Griggs for the insurance run and 7-1 LSU lead.
Before and after the game, the team honored its three-member senior class of Andrews, Dylan Supak and Kailey McCasland, to close out its Senior Weekend festivities.