LSU says it’s ready for Missouri, SEC softball tournament

Two years later, Allison Falcon remembers the heat.

Facing Missouri in a NCAA tournament, the temperatures were sweltering. On the field, upstart LSU dug deep against a national seed in a Sunday doubleheader that helped the program end an eight year absence from the Women’s College World Series.

“It was hot,” Falcon said. “Literally and metaphorically.”

Now conditions may be primed at the Southeastern Conference tournament for the budding rivalry to kick up sparks when No. 23 LSU (34-21), which is seeded sixth, faces third seed and No. 13 Missouri (41-15) at 10 a.m. Thursday in Columbia, South Carolina, at Beckham Field.

The roots are easy to trace back to the super regional opener.

LSU touched up Mizzou ace Chelsea Thomas in a 6-1 victory, one in which the All-American struggled late. Afterward, Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine downplayed LSU’s approach at the plate, pinning his pitcher’s struggles on the heat, and confidently implied his team wouldn’t be fazed by sweeping a Sunday doubleheader.

On that Saturday, LSU fans razzed Thomas about her stamina in the circle. LSU made clear it wasn’t intimated. Catcher Lauren Houston let a forearm go high and into the face of Mizzou’s Brianna Corwin during a rundown. Next, reserve backstop Morgan Russell was pushed out of the way when she made a bid to take out Missouri shortstop Corwin Genovese.

Afterward, it drew a complaint from Earleywine that officials let physical play get out of hand.

“We are very, very different stylistically and the way we direct our programs,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “Anytime you do things at the polar ends of the spectrum, it’s tough to have them meet on a level field without there being a difference of opinion. When we went up there, we were going to make sure we weren’t going to get pushed around. And if we did, we were going to push back.”

And it doesn’t help that Earleywine bears the reputation for using his comments to ruffle feathers. For example, he called Alabama’s dogpile “bush league” after securing a SEC title at Missouri last week.

“I have a ton of respect for Ehren,” Torina said. “He doesn’t do things how I would do them, but he is a fantastic coach, and he always brings a fantastic team to the field.”

Still, it was evident when Missouri visited Baton Rouge as a new member of the SEC that it hadn’t put the memory of its super regional defeat to bed.

“There was a little bit of animosity because of the past,” LSU third baseman Tammy Wray said. “They probably wanted to beat us more than anyone else.”

So was it simply the environment? Or will the stakes stoke old grudges? Missouri, which sits No. 9 in the RPI, is a lock to host a regional but wants to sew up a national seed to secure another super regional. LSU has a remote chance at hosting a regional if it can make a deep run.

Don’t rule it out.

“It’s always in the back of our minds what went through and that there is a rivalry there,” Torina said. “That there is that little bit extra emotion.”

Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter: @MHarrisAdvocate.