LSU punches ticket to Women’s College World Series
COLUMBIA, Mo. — It came down to a simple numbers game.
Missouri tossed out one ace, but LSU threw down a pair.
And for the third time in program history and first time since 2004, LSU is headed to the Women’s College World Series.
LSU won the third and decisive game of its super regional with No. 9 Missouri 3-1 to book a spot in the WCWS, where they will face top seed California at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
It was an almost anticlimactic finish to a day that began with a wild 12-inning affair that Mizzou took 5-1. After that long, drawn-out battle, MU star pitcher Chelsea Thomas didn’t have much left in the tank for Game 3, and she was tagged for three runs in three innings before departing the game.
That was all the breathing room LSU ace Rachele Fico needed. She had a fresh arm after sitting and watching teammate Brittany Mack handle the first game of the doubleheader, and she shut down the hometown Tigers for the second night in a row by allowing just two hits, zero walks and one hit batter.
“Either way today, I thought we had an advantage because we have the two pitchers that are so strong,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “Then after we went extra innings (in Game 2), I thought that definitely lent toward us also.”
Thomas ran out of gas in the third, when she walked two and hit one to load the bases for LSU’s Simone Heyward. Heyward poked a low line drive between the left and center fielders that rolled all the way to the fence and cleared the bases.
Thomas got out of the inning, but that was the end of her day. Bailey Erwin filled in with three hitless innings of relief that came too late.
“If you’re coaching that team, you just say you’re going to throw (Thomas) until she can’t throw anymore. That’s just what you have to do,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said.
“I felt like at the end of the 12-inning game, she really had a nice tempo to her windup and release,” he added. “But then when she got into trouble in (the finale) she looked a little more herky-jerky, and sometimes fatigue does that.”
From there, Fico — who allowed the lone run on two singles and two bunts in the top of the third — slammed the door. She retired the next seven batters in a row and only allowed two base runners in the final four innings, one of which reached when left fielder Ashley Langoni dropped an easy fly ball that would have ended the game.
Langoni got another chance one batter later. This time, she squeezed it, held her arms out and waited for the pile-up that ensued.
Just like that, a team that finished sixth in the Southeastern Conference and lost eight of 10 games entering the NCAA tournament is headed to Oklahoma City to face top overall seed Cal. The Bears (56-5) beat the Tigers (39-23) in February — a 14-3 mercy-rule victory that tied an LSU record for most runs allowed.
But Fico & Co. say they’re a different team now then they were then.
“We’ve had some points in the season where we struggled, but we’re peaking at the right time and that’s all that matters,” Fico said. “We’ve been working for the postseason from Day 1. We just trusted each other and our coaching staff, and it paid off.”
MISSOURI 5, LSU 1, 12 INNINGS: The 12th inning meltdown that cost LSU a Game 2 loss overshadowed Mack’s masterful outing.
The senior notched a career-high 17 strikeouts in 12 innings, allowing just seven hits and throwing a whopping 201 pitches. All five runs were unearned, including the four-run 12th that handed Mizzou the contest.
“Brittany Mack is phenomenal,” Torina said. “Seventeen strikeouts is unbelievable with a team like Missouri and the offense they possess.”
The teams each scored a run in the third — Missouri on a fielder’s choice and LSU on a sacrifice fly — and then went quiet. LSU was the designated home team, meaning they came to the plate five times with a chance for a win and couldn’t muster a run.
All five of LSU’s hits came on infield singles, and Thomas sat down 15 of the last 16 batters she faced.
Missouri finally broke it open in the 12th, loading the bases on a strike out-wild pitch, single and walk, then scoring three on an errant throw to the plate and another on a grounder to short.