LSU takes practical approach to SEC softball tournament

Beth Torina’s forecast is practical.

Just present a positive what-if to LSU’s coach and listen to her calmly brush it off.

In theory, the No. 23 Tigers (34-21) open the Southeastern Conference tournament in Columbia, S.C., as a surging No. 6 seed against third-seeded and Missouri (41-15) at 10 a.m. Thursday with a chance to host an NCAA regional for a second consecutive season.

A run to the finals might be enough. Better yet, winning the program’s first SEC tournament crown in seven years could do the trick.

And Torina still seems intent to douse that line of thinking.

“It’s an outside possibility,” Torina said. “I just think regionally, that may not be the best matchup this year.”

The Tigers currently stand No. 20 in the RPI, four spots removed from getting into the selection committee’s deliberations. LSU also dragged itself through the nation’s toughest schedule. Yet the program is behind seven other SEC teams in the RPI, and it’s just an hour east from Louisiana-Lafayette — the No. 6 team in the index.

Basically, LSU would need to emerge from the nation’s deepest conference — jumping past peers such as Kentucky or Auburn — and hope its proximity to UL-Lafayette doesn’t hinder its chances.

“I’m not sure they’re going to put two (teams) in this area, considering we’d be a bubble team anyway,” Torina said. “We’re going to go there and play our best just because we want to play our best.”

But ...

“It’s always in the back of everyone’s mind,” senior pitcher Ashley Czechner said. “We’ve all discussed it, and so has coach, and that we could potentially host if we win the SEC tournament. That’s something that we think we can happen.”

The fact LSU even has a chance to stay in Tiger Park is a testament to its work over the past month.

After getting swept by SEC champion Alabama in late March, the Tigers were 2-7 in conference play.

The April schedule featured series against top-15 foes in Tennessee and Georgia, along with eventual Southland Conference champion McNeese State. LSU’s lineup couldn’t make clutch contact, and Czechner and Baylee Corbello issued too many walks.

“Bama was the turning point for us,” senior second baseman Allison Falcon said. “We got off the bus and put our foot down and said, ‘We’re not losing games like this.’ ”

The Tigers have been steady in the circle with Czechner and Corbello, possessing a pair of arms to carry the load no matter who starts.

At the plate, though, the Tigers have found their swings. LSU battered SEC pitching to the tune 6.9 runs per game over the final month, while its batting average rose to .329 — a jump of nearly 50 points. Simply put, Torina’s club, which also slugged .499 during its run, has been able to plate runs instead of stranding them adrift on the bases.

The Tigers closed the regular season a 15-6 kick, winning nine of their past 11 games. Only Bama and Mizzou had better winning percentages, while LSU won its final five SEC series. Of course, the schedule helped, too. LSU went 7-2 against South Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State — all of whom finished eighth place or lower — during the final three weeks.

“Things didn’t necessarily go our way, but coach always said there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” third baseman Tammy Wray said. “We were in a tough stretch of series with Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. But we knew we’d be all right.”

Chances are, too, Torina won’t shy away from sharing a change in her predictions if the Tigers give her a reason.

“She does a good job keeping us informed,” Falcon said. “We don’t need to win every game, even though we trying to win every game. We know which games are very important, and all three of these are huge.”

Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter @MHarrisAdvocate.