LSU softball wins elimination game, scores rematch with ULL

Advocate staff photo by BRIANNA PACIORKA -- LSU infielder Allison Falcon retires Central Connecticut State's Arielle Bruno at second during the Tigers' 11-0 NCAA softball regional victory Saturday, May 18, 2013, at Tiger Park.
Advocate staff photo by BRIANNA PACIORKA -- LSU infielder Allison Falcon retires Central Connecticut State's Arielle Bruno at second during the Tigers' 11-0 NCAA softball regional victory Saturday, May 18, 2013, at Tiger Park.

Hours after being delivered a punch to the gut by Louisiana-Lafayette in the Baton Rouge Regional, the LSU softball team returned to the diamond Saturday night hoping to earn another shot (or two) at the Ragin’ Cajuns the following day.

The Tigers took care of the first piece of business by dispatching Central Connecticut State 11-0 in six innings.

The taller task awaits.

LSU must beat ULL twice on championship day at Tiger Park, first at 1 p.m. Sunday and — if the Tigers win — again at 4 p.m. in a winner-take-all final. The Cajuns are the regional’s only unbeaten team.

“We needed to get some momentum, put some hits together and score some runs,” LSU coach Beth Torina said after Saturday night’s win. “Hopefully, we can keep that rolling into tomorrow.”

LSU, the No. 9 national seed, managed little offense in a 3-0 loss to ULL in Saturday’s first game.

But the Tigers (42-15) came out swinging — and running — in the nightcap, applying pressure on the Blue Devils from the first inning on.

Two infield ground balls hit by speedy LSU batters led to CCSU defensive miscues in the opening inning, and Allison Falcon’s attempt at stealing home led to an interference call by Devils third baseman Nicole Springer that allowed Sandra Simmons to score.

LSU was up 4-0 before pitcher Ashley Czechner, who struck out 15 in a 3-2 victory against CCSU the night before, had taken the ball for her second start of the regional.

“We just came out playing LSU softball,” Simmons said. “We wanted to show who we really were.”

Simmons finished 3-for-3 —the first three-hit game of her career — to lead the LSU offense and came through with a pair of two-run singles. Tammy Wray went 2-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and a two-run double. No. 3 hitter Bianka Bell was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and scored three times.

As a team, LSU pounded out 12 hits.

“Getting it going in the first inning like that is huge,” Simmons said. “It gives us some momentum.”

As the LSU offense rumbled to life, Czechner stayed in a groove.

The junior baffled CCSU (36-15) for the second straight night, this time allowing only two hits and wracking up nine strikeouts.

“I knew it was win or go home,” Czechner said. “I knew that I had to win this game to keep our season alive.”

With the Tigers already leading by six, Simmons and Wray combined to drive in four runs in the sixth, propelling LSU to a five-run inning that put in motion the eight-run mercy rule.

CCSU coach Jeff Franquet replaced sophomore Laura Messina, who had pitched every inning for the Devils in their three regional games, after Simmons made it 9-0 one out into the sixth.

As she left the diamond, Messina had tears in her eyes.

The pro-LSU crowd gave her a standing ovation as the pitcher hugged teammates on her way to the third-base dugout.

“Talk about class,” Franquet said of the LSU fans. “I’m pretty sure they don’t give too many opposing pitchers a standing ovation unless they respect them.”

Messina won her 50th career game earlier in the day, a 9-1 victory over Northwestern State in another elimination game.

The Devils headed home on the wrong end of an ugly final game, but Franquet said the legacy of the team will be that it set the school record for wins in a season and got CCSU to the NCAA tournament for the first time.

“Don’t cry out here,” Franquet said he told his players after Saturday night’s loss. “You should be walking out of here with tears of joy.”

Torina named senior ace Rachelle Fico the starter for Sunday’s first game against ULL. She said she had not decided on a starter should the Tigers force a second game.

LSU will be looking to snap a four-game postseason losing streak against the Cajuns, who left Baton Rouge with regional titles in 2008 and ’10.