Any number of factors could be the difference in the LSU softball team’s super regional showdown with No. 9 national seed Missouri this weekend.
Each team boasts one of the nation’s best pitchers and a senior slugger, but don’t count out the name at the very bottom of LSU’s offensive stat sheet: pinch runner Alex Boulet.
When the series kicks off Saturday evening in Columbia, Mo., Boulet will be the only position player on either team who has yet to register a hit this season, and along with 5-foot teammate Simone Heyward, she’ll also be the smallest player on the field.
But don’t let that fool you.
On a team that has seen 12 of its last 14 games decided by one run, Boulet’s role is crucial.
Every steal or run can be the difference between a win or loss, and that will be magnified this weekend in Missouri.
“It’s a huge job and really important — and something that really no one else could do,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “She does it so well, and I really think she’s probably the best base runner I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. She’s one of the best I’ve seen in the SEC for sure.”
The sophomore from Notre Dame of Crowley spent the 2011 season bouncing between outfield starts and pinch-running duties, scoring on 14 of her 28 attempts and notching 19 steals.
This year, she has been used almost exclusively as a base runner. Some would have seen that as a frustrating assignment, but while Torina said Boulet was disappointed at first, once she saw the importance of that job to the team, Boulet took it and ran with it.
“It’s not what I thought my role would be,” Boulet said. “I’m always working for more because you never want to be satisfied, but I do what I can with what I have. This is the shot that (Torina) gives me, and I make it mine. I make it fun.”
Fun translates to an aggressive style on the base paths. Boulet said she has always enjoyed base running because it offers a chance to strategize and catch an opponent off guard.
A lazy toss back to the pitcher or a player turning her back might be all she needs to change a game.
Case in point: With the Tigers trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning of a March 20 game against Georgia Tech, Boulet came in for Dylan Supak, who had walked. Boulet moved to third on a groundout and flyout, and a walk put runners on the corners.
When Rikki Alcaraz took a big lead at first, the catcher threw down for a pickoff attempt, and Boulet hit the gas.
“(The first baseman) completely turned around to tag the runner at first, so I just took off,” Boulet said.
Boulet stole home to tie the game, and the ensuing throw to the plate moved Alcaraz to second. Alcaraz scored the go-ahead run on an RBI single, and the Tigers won 2-1.
Boulet also scored the only run in a 1-0 win against Georgia on Senior Day, and she stole two bases before scoring on a groundout for the go-ahead run in a 2-1 victory over Ole Miss on April 21. Overall, LSU is 7-2 this season in games when Boulet scores, and her 12 steals are the team’s second-best total.
Beyond that, Torina points to Boulet’s effort level in practice — when she frequently dives or crashes into the fence during routine drills or while shagging fly balls in batting practice.
“I think her role on the team is way more than anyone in the stands could understand,” Torina said. “That kid does so much for this team. Every single day, I can say she is the one who pushes her teammates to be better.”
That hasn’t stopped the LSU faithful from taking notice.
Whenever Boulet trots onto the field at Tiger Park, she’s greeted with a chorus of “Bous” from the home crowd.
“You know someone has something special about them when they get the kind of reaction she does when she enters the game,” LSU pitcher Rachele Fico said. “She’s so exciting to watch and so good at what she does. It’s just a natural talent that you can’t teach. She just reacts on instinct, and she really shifts momentum in our favor when she comes into the game.”
That’s exactly what Boulet will be hoping to do this weekend.
She’ll be in the dugout, waiting for her opportunity to propel the Tigers to their third Women’s College World Series appearance.
“If I get that one chance, I want to be the difference in the game,” she said. “That is my shot to be the game-winning run, and my mission is just to be a spark for the team.”
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