LSU softball team in prime position to host regional

Coming off an exhilarating three-game sweep of fourth-ranked Alabama at home over the weekend, the LSU softball team is thinking big — and rightfully so.

With one regular-season series remaining this weekend before the Southeastern Conference tournament, which will be played May 9-11 in Lexington, Ky., eighth-ranked LSU still has some work to do before the NCAA tournament begins in two weeks.

But while the Tigers (40-11, 15-6 SEC) try to remain focused on the task at hand, LSU athletic department officials are a step ahead of the game after submitting bids to host a regional and possible super regional at Tiger Park.

After traveling to College Station, Texas, in 2011 and ’12, LSU would like nothing more than to stay at home to at least begin its run to what the Tigers hope is a second consecutive Women’s College World Series appearance.

LSU has hosted an NCAA regional six times — in 1999, 2000-01, 2006, 2008 and 2010 — and have a 15-8 record. The 2010 regional was the first played in the new Tiger Park, which opened in 2009.

The chances of hosting a four-team regional, which will be played May 16-19 with the super regional to follow May 23-26, were certainly enhanced by LSU’s eye-opening sweep of defending national champion Alabama by scores of 3-2, 2-1 and 4-3.

The Tigers this week moved up four spots to eighth in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll and jumped four spots in the RPI to fourth — just two of the things that go into the NCAA Division I Softball Committee’s awarding of 16 four-team regionals.

“That definitely helped us a lot,” LSU coach Beth Torina said Wednesday. “Alabama is so highly thought-of and highly ranked that beating them once or twice would have been big for us. Sweeping them was huge.”

But having a good team is not the only criteria for earning a regional bid.

While the Tigers, who complete the regular season this weekend with a three-game series at Georgia, were doing it on the field, LSU fans were turning out in record numbers at the stadium.

The fourth-largest crowd in program history attended the opener Thursday night as 1,917 passed through the gates, while the Friday and Saturday games drew record crowds of 2,651 and 3,231, respectively, for a series total of 7,799.

“Absolutely, we showed we can fill it up, and go way past capacity with the berm seating out there,” LSU senior associate athletic director Herb Vincent said. “We’ve shown what the potential is for softball.”

Vincent said the bid LSU put in was based on what the school is going to charge for tickets and the estimated attendance at the stadium, which has seating for 1,289 fans not counting the outfield berm.

Torina credited the fans, who will be asked to come out in droves again if the Tigers host a regional, with helping her team get the sweep in a trio of one-run thrillers.

“I thought the turnout this weekend at Tiger Park … all the fans and how much they helped us against Alabama, speaks volumes about what we can do at our own park,” she said.

Of course, Torina said, it helped that LSU was playing for a lot against a quality Alabama team. With Sunday’s win, the Tigers clinched at least a tie for the SEC West title and need just one victory this weekend, or an Alabama loss, to take the crown.

“We were playing for something last weekend, we were playing to win the West,” Torina said. “When you’re playing for championships, bigger crowds will be in place.

“I had never seen in college softball what we had this weekend at Tiger Park,” she added. “It was amazing.”