Sahvanna Jaquish, Tigers hitting groove

Sahvanna Jaquish smiled sheepishly as she tried to conjure up an explanation.

LSU’s freshman designated player can’t lay out how opposing pitching coaches haven’t put together a dossier on how to stop her walloping offerings so late in her first season.

“I don’t really know,” Jaquish said Monday. “I’m just trying to do my job.”

And she’s not the only member of the Tigers lineup at a loss for the offensive spurt that’s carried LSU (35-22) ahead of their opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Louisville (36-20) in the Tucson Regional of the NCAA tournament.

“I can’t really say,” said a shrugging shortstop Bianka Bell, who’s clubbed seven homers and driven in 23 RBIs over the past 23 games.

“Good hitting can just be contagious,” added first baseman Allison Falcon, who has hit .393 since April 1.

Tammy Wray’s seeming two-year slump at the dish has dissipated, and Jaquish has slugged her way to a spot on the All-SEC team. Surely, there’s not some mystical force making all this happen?

No, there hasn’t been an overhaul in terms how the Tigers approach at-bats. Stances and swings haven’t been rebuilt after teardown jobs, either.

“Some are capable of hitting the ball out of the park,” coach Beth Torina said. “Others are going to give you doubles, but I think their outcomes define their spot. Their spot then defines what type of hitter we need them to be.”

Instead, hitting coach Howard Dobson’s explanation is simple: In a game where failure is a constant reality, time tends to even matters out. After two months of struggling to hit in clutch situations, the pendulum has swung back.

“You’ve got to give credit for their maturity level,” Dobson said. “They’ve been in the system long enough that they start to understand it and start to believe it more.”

On paper, the Cardinals’ collection of arms doesn’t appear daunting.

Louisville, the American Athletic Conference champion, ranks a pedestrian 74th nationally with a 2.98 ERA. Ace Marissa Becker (13-7) has a solid 2.02 ERA, and the freshman’s 137 strikeouts are respectable but not gaudy.

So, given the recent efforts against similar rotations, does LSU think it has an edge?

“They’re not someone you can look past or assume anything,” Torina said. “They will give us a ballgame. We understand the program they’ve put together.”

Louisville should also have a good sense of what LSU’s approach might be Friday. They should, too. Pitching coach Courtney Scott was a graduate assistant at Oklahoma for two seasons, overlapping Dobson’s five seasons in Norman as the Sooners hitting coach.

“Their pitchers, even though they don’t have tremendous strikeout numbers, they’re going to hit their spots,” Dobson said.

“They’re going to spin it and make the ball break instead of blow it by you. They want to set up things.”

Still, Jaquish is evidence enough that there’s more than probabilities and beneficial matchups at work.

In theory, Jaquish, who is hitting .335 with with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs, should have hit a slump by now. At the beginning of April, LSU’s slate offered up top rotations in Tennessee and Georgia.

“We’re at the end of the season,” Dobson said. “So the scouting report should be out on her.”

That hasn’t mattered.

Instead, Jaquish has hit .406, including a gaudy .719 slugging percentage, to go with four home runs and 19 RBIs over the final six weeks of the season.

But like the rest of the lineup, Jaquish said she feeds off seeing everyone put together good at-bats and get in good swings. If you ask whether she’s had to tweak her approach, she simply grins and breaks into chuckles.

The best she can say?

“When the whole lineup hits, it gives you a lot of confidence as a freshman,” Jaquish said.

Leave it to Dobson to call up a quick example.

Against Missouri in the SEC tournament, Jaquish stepped in against fellow freshman in Tigers’ pitcher Tori Finucane — another All-SEC pick — in the first inning.

Finucane busted her inside twice, but Jaquish’s quick hands and vision let her take two pitches deep in the box for a ball and rip one back for a strike. On the third pitch, she sensed Finucane would work away.

She guessed right, mashing a double into the gap to give LSU its first run in a 6-0 win.

“Most freshman can’t make the adjustment,” Dobson said, “much less in a three-pitch sequence.”

And while Jaquish can’t elaborate on the Tigers’ approach, the man formulating their approach said his job is getting easier.

“They’re making moves in the box now,” Dobson said. “They come back and they tell us, ‘This is how she’s pitching me. Can I try this out?’”

Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter: @MHarrisAdvocate.