Softball Heads West For Mary Nutter Classic

by Clyde Verdin
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Softball Heads West For Mary Nutter Classic

BATON ROUGE, La. – After playing each of the first 11 games in the friendly confines of Tiger Park, the No. 14 LSU softball team hits the road for the first time in 2015, heading to California for one of the largest and most prestigious tournaments in the country in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, which begins in earnest Thursday in Palm Springs.

LSUsports.net will have links to live stats for all five of the team’s games this weekend, while fans can also get updates on our Facebook and Twitter social media pages throughout the week.

While the home life has been good for the Tigers so far this season, the next five games will really test LSU’s mettle heading into the final two weeks of non-conference tournament play before the SEC season begins in early March. LSU opens the tournament with San Diego State and Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, while having a one-game rematch against Arizona on Friday and closing out the week with two Big Ten teams in Nebraska and Northwestern.

On Tuesday night, LSU ran its record season opening-winning streak to 11 games after pulling off a gritty, 7-5 comeback win against the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters. The start ties the second-longest season-opening winning streak with the 2007 team, as the record is held by the 2006 team that raced out to a 14-0 start that season.

In freezing cold temperatures, and the game being moved an hour earlier, LSU used up every ounce of energy against the visitors last night, watching a three-run lead disappear over the course of the game, while committing costly errors that allowed LaTech to take the lead and put the team on the brink. Instead, the group rallied and never lost sight of the end goal, as in the crucial bottom of the seventh, reeled off four runs on three hits, with none bigger than sophomore Sahvanna Jaquish‘s walk-off three-run home run to close the night.

Coming off of an All-American freshman season in 2014, Jaquish has begun to find her rhythm that placed her on the second team last season, as after the first weekend of play she had a few hits to her credit. Over the course of the last weekend and Tuesday, she’s now second only to Bianka Bell in home runs with four, as three of the four have been three-run shots out of Tiger Park after going 3-for-4 with four RBIs against the Lady Techsters.

Currently on a nine-game hitting streak, two away from tying her personal record from last season, junior Bianka Bell continues to factor in a the plate for LSU, as through 11 games she accounts for six of the team’s 27 multi-hit outings and five of the group’s 10 multi-RBI games. Her .528 batting average and whopping 1.111 slugging percentage are both in the top 10 individually in the SEC, while also among the league’s best in total hits and RBIs.

LSU has gotten offensive production throughout the season at different spots of the lineup and Tuesday night was no different as Constance Quinn hit her first home run of the season, a solo shot coming in the second inning, which gave LSU a 3-0 lead at that point.

For the first time all season, the LSU pitching staff would need to overcome not only a disciplined hitting team in Louisiana Tech, but also weather some defensive miscues at the same time. Carley Hoover started the game and pitched well, allowing an unearned run on three hits with five strikeouts, working out of a big jam early. Kelsee Selman came on in relief, and after two dominant starts pitched the next 1.2 innings, unfortunately allowing the game-tying two-run home run amid three hits with a strikeout.

Due to the host of changes and the way the game ended, the win eventually went to Allie Walljasper, earning her fourth of the season, as she pitched the final 1.1 innings, with two unearned runs crossing the plate on two hits with two strikeouts. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week is third in the SEC in earned run average at 0.29, while placing in the top 15 in opposing batting average, innings pitched and total wins.

LSU will have a tall task to face when it heads to California, as so far this season, as four of the teams they face are currently in, or were in the early preseason top 25 polls, although the Tigers hope to have a considerable away-from-home field advantage with five Californians on the roster in Jaquish, Kellsi Kloss, Kailey McCasland, Sandra Simmons and Walljasper.

The Tigers take on San Diego State at 8 p.m. CT on Thursday, the first meeting between the two teams since 1998 and only the second between the two sides. The first of three scheduled rematches from the 2014 season will be next at 10:30 p.m. CT against Cal State Fullerton, who LSU defeated 8-1 in last year’s tournament.

The biggest, and only game of the day for the team on Friday, pits LSU against No. 13 Arizona at 5:30 p.m. CT in a rematch of last year’s hard-hitting NCAA Tucson Regional which the Wildcats won in a winner-take-all final game last May. The Tigers close out the tournament with two more games on Saturday, taking on Nebraska at 12 p.m. CT in the first meeting between the two teams since 2002, before closing against Northwestern, a team LSU defeated 4-0 last year in Baton Rouge at the Tiger Invitational.

For all of the latest news and information on Tiger softball, visit www.lsusports.net/softball. Fans can also follow the program on its social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball along with @lsusoftball and @BethTorina on Twitter and @lsusb on Instagram.