e_SDLqThey’re a lot like us in the sense that they’re scrappy and looking to push a few runs. They have pretty decent pitchers, and they know that if they get a few runs, they feel the same way as us (that they’ll win).e_SDRq Morgan Russell, LSU catcher on South Florida
OKLAHOMA CITY — Two wins a day keeps the Tigers in play.
The LSU softball team’s mission at the Women’s College World Series is clear and unforgiving: win twice Saturday (against USF andNo. 1 California) or the season is over. Then, do it again Sunday against No. 4 Oklahoma to book a spot in the final.
It’s no easy task, but the scrappy Tigers aren’t about to abandon the never-say-die attitude that got them this far. In fact, they feel that facing a jam-packed schedule of must-wins plays right into their hands.
More specifically, two pairs of hands: those of pitchers Rachele Fico and Brittany Mack.
“The mentality of (Saturday) is, that works in our favor,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “It’s something that we can handle with the two pitchers. Anytime we have to play twice in a day, we definitely have an advantage with the two pitchers, and we’re 100 percent confident in both of them.”
But the luxury of having an ace in the hole won’t matter if the Tigers can’t get over the first hurdle. They’ll begin the day at 11 a.m. against the Bulls — a team that’s as close to their mirror image as they’ll find in Oklahoma City.
Like LSU, USF has a low-scoring offense and solid pitching. The Bulls came into the WCWS ranked No. 148 in runs per game (the Tigers were No. 218) and second in earned run average (LSU was ninth).
And the two teams dropped their openers in similar fashion on Thursday. USF grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning against the hometown Sooners but was overwhelmed by OU’s powerful offense in a 5-1 loss. LSU pounced on Cal 2-0, then saw the lead slowly slip away in a 5-3 defeat.
“They’re a lot like us in the sense that they’re scrappy and looking to push a few runs,” catcher Morgan Russell said. “They have pretty decent pitchers, and they know that if they get a few runs, they feel the same way as us (that they’ll win). But coming into it, I know we’re ready.”
USF will send ace Sara Nevins (31-7, 1.15 ERA) to the circle. OU tagged her for five runs on four hits in 4.2 innings — the outlier in a postseason where she had allowed a total of six runs in six games.
Between the Southeastern Conference schedule and NCAA tournament, facing an elite pitcher is nothing new for LSU. But Nevins does pose a unique challenge.
“She’s left-handed, and that’s definitely a different look,” Torina said.
Nevins will be the first southpaw the Tigers have faced in 21 games, when they topped McNeese State 2-1 on April 17. She relies heavily on her curveball, meaning the Tigers’ right-handed hitters will have to adjust to a pitch that breaks toward their hands, rather than the slew of down-and-away drop-ball righties they’ve seen in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Torina has the option of throwing either Fico (20-12, 0.96 ERA), Mack (15-12, 2.24 ERA), or a combination of the two. Mack came on in the sixth against Cal after Fico ran into trouble.
With a win, the Tigers would advance to a 6 p.m. rematch with the Golden Bears, who fell 3-0 to Oklahoma on Friday evening. That means facing either Jolene Henderson or Valerie Arioto and shutting down an offense that LSU says is the nation’s strongest from top to bottom.
But those are Saturday night problems, and the Tigers won’t have the pleasure of dealing with them unless they can tackle the Bulls first.
“You just don’t really think about it,” Russell said. “You take it game by game, one pitch at a time, and worry about what’s ahead of you, not what could happen. If you do that, things don’t go well.”