Beth Torina had a hunch.
Granted, the LSU softball coach wasn’t alone in trying to whittle down the list of NCAA tournament regional sites her Tigers might be heading toward.
Before their trip to the SEC tournament, the sneaking suspicion was that the Tigers might make a short drive over the Basin Bridge to face Louisiana-Lafayette.
By Sunday night, the Tigers staff buzzed about facing Baylor. Watching the unveiling of the bracket, Oklahoma — a trip LSU made in March — became the forecast.
Still, Torina had her own forecast — albeit broad.
“Absolutely no idea,” she said. “I knew on paper that somebody from the SEC was probably going to have to go west.”
Indeed, the selection committee plopped the Tigers (35-22) in the Tucson regional, which is hosted by No. 11 seed Arizona. The Tigers will open up against American Athletic Conference champion Louisville (36-20) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium.
“I was thinking Baylor,” second baseman Allison Falcon said. “There were a lot of options. Every single regional they showed up on the TV, it seemed like we could have been there.”
The Tigers got caught up in the numbers game.
First, there were seven Southeastern Conference programs in front of the Tigers in the Rating Percentage Index, where LSU sat at No. 20 last week.
Second, six of those SEC programs were top-16 national seeds and hosting a regional, ruling them out as landing spots. Meanwhile, four Pac-12 programs also nabbed regionals, leaving few good — or, fairly close — destinations.
“Just based on the previous on the RPI,” senior Ashley Czechner said. “That kind of helped us narrow it down.”
So the Tigers hit the road to play two time zones away. The Wildcats (41-13) open against America East champion Boston University (35-19) in the double-elimination format.
Louisville isn’t entirely unknown to the Tigers. LSU faced the Cardinals last season in the Citrus Classic, losing 6-2 to then-No. 15 UL.
Outside of that, there’s little Torina’s program can carry over from a nonconference matchup almost 14 months ago.
“We just know they’re going to be a good team,” Falcon said.
Yet jetting two time zones away also may help the Tigers escape persistent questions for now about a potential 45 minute drive down Interstate 10.
Torina may have pleaded ignorance, but her players sensed they might see the inverse of what happened a year ago when the Tigers — a No. 9 seed and regional host — saw an upstart UL-Lafayette squad win two games in Baton Rouge to advance to a super regional.
A rematch could be possible — a round later and in Lafayette this time.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, who coasted to the Sun Belt regular-season and tournament titles, are the No. 6 overall seed — ensuring they would host the winner of the Tucson regional.
So try this: If UL-Lafayette does what many expect and LSU emerges from its desert trek, then a trip to the Women’s College World Series may be on the line in Lafayette.
LSU acknowledged starting out on the road may be beneficial.
“Just playing away help us,” Czechner said. “It clears our heads, and any team you put in front of us, if we play LSU softball, then we can win.”
Torina, as is her custom, didn’t consider the hypothetical.
“It’s going to be a really tough regional,” she said. “I’ve told these kids all year long, I’ll put them up against anybody. It really doesn’t matter to me what the name on the other jersey was. It’s going to matter which of our teams show up.”
And there’s enough data to bolster the conclusion after the Tigers won their final five SEC series and went 16-7 in the past six weeks.
LSU, seeded No. 6 in the SEC tournament, knocked out Missouri — a program now seeded No. 15 in the NCAA tournament — and scrapped into extra innings during a 4-3 semifinal loss to SEC runner-up Kentucky.
“It could have gone either way,” Torina said. “I loved the way we played Missouri. If we can play everybody the way we did that, it was a great effort.”
Hanging around after the Tigers cleared the room, though, Torina was quick to remind the remaining member of her staff about her gut feeling.
“I told you the other day,” Torina said. “I just had this feeling someone was going west.”