Lowe: Softball's Back in Oklahoma City
I went to a country music concert Sunday night at Tiger Stadium and I found myself switching from good music to great softball at the drop of my country hat.
Today I’m one very happy softball fan and so proud of an LSU team that will go once again to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. Well, they won’t go, they are already there.
I’ve had the privilege of sitting by Patrick Wright, your voice of softball, for the home games since the program started and I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with him through two dramatic trips to All-American Stadium in OKC. Now the journey continues again to the home of softball and you just can’t say enough about the hows and whys of the last few weeks.
I fretted much of April and early May when LSU’s inability to put hits together results in hard-luck losses for Rachele Fico and Brittany Mack. I was the fortunate or unfortunate play-by-play announcer when Patrick was off for that 15-inning marathon with Georgia when an unearned run in the top of 15th gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 win. It was a night when LSU had one hit (that didn’t come until the 11th inning) and nearly prompted me on the post-game show to paraphrase the famed Bob Uecker line from “Major League” – “LSU had no runs and one hit – one *&* #*^% hit.”
LSU played some of the toughest teams in the nation during that time, but something was missing. It was so hard to grasp watching from the booth. It was something that hit the team from top to bottom – the bats had lost their magic.
But LSU was getting to a regional and of course the NCAA committee playing its usual softball selection games, put LSU and A&M together for the third straight year.
Now here’s the one thing you need to know about softball when it gets to the end of May – pitching and defense. You pitch, you defend you are in the game. But the other team has players that can pitch and defend too. It’s the team that can scratch out a run or two that can win.
LSU had the Fico-Mack pitching duo. But little things began to happen. A late run in the first game got LSU a win. Then LSU got two runs and made them stick against A&M. To which you are suddenly thinking “hey that’s great. They aren’t giving up without a fight.”
Then they play A&M again, get two runs, win 2-1 and its goodbye No. 8 national seed and the regional winners are on to Missouri for the Super. Geez, another nice committee pairing. So you think, “hey nice finish. Great year.”
6-1 LSU in the opener.
Then on Sunday, some of those demons began creeping in and unearned runs and miscues put LSU into a third game after a 5-1, 12-inning loss that had the Missouri fans sensing a fourth-straight trip to OKC.
You started looking at the Supers that went three games and the home team was doing a good job getting through and again it was time to go, “Well, one heck of a finish.”
But Fico had the ball and you were going to have to pry it out of her hand to get her out of the circle. Pitching and defense. A big throw out at the plate, a couple of runs and hey Missouri, what do think now of all those purple and gold Tiger fans you’ll have to deal with in the SEC.
LSU and OKC. It rolls off the tongue so easily. Why did we doubt. What is obvious today in softball is two pitchers are better than one. What Kristin Schmidt did in 2004 when she was named MVP is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. While teams can win big with just one pitcher, when it gets late in the season, how many times have those pitchers slightly faltered.
I’m of the opinion that former coach Yvette Girouard made Mack a very good pitcher that was ready to leave her mark on her senior season. I’m also convinced that the class Mack showed on senior day at LSU was a moment that bonded this team even tighter. Coach Beth Torina told Mack the ball was hers if she wanted it one day after a difficult second game loss to Georgia. Mack said that Fico was pitching better and to give her the ball to help LSU get the win. Torina put Mack in the lineup as a hitting DP.
Fico pitched fabulous and Mack got Fico the win with her first career hit and also drove in the only run. The first players to greet each other and hug each other were Mack and Fico, something you’ve seen a lot this post-season.
I’m also of the opinion that Coach Torina raised Fico’s pitching confidence to the highest it’s been at LSU. Can’t explain why, but it seems obvious. The record doesn’t show it but with any luck at all, both of these ladies should be 20-game winners.
So that brings up to the head lady. Did something else happen with our softball program before she was hired? I don’t remember and I don’t care. We hired a coach who has taken LSU back to the WCWS. Coach Torina has shown everyone that LSU is still here. The Tigers are still a softball power to be reckoned with and it is obvious she has a rapport that has made her very successful. It now boils down to recruiting the future stars.
Oh yea. Sorry. Recruiting, pitching and defense.
This time around Matt Dunaway will join my buddy Patrick Wright as they continue calling this post-season road trip as they have done so well on our network. OKC is what Rosenblatt used to be before the men’s CWS got so commercialized. OKC is right on the brink where it could go either way, but so far it has resisted it all and is still a special place to visit. Make the trip to OKC if you can. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the atmosphere and the way your Tigers represent you in softball’s biggest venue.
I’ll be right here Thursday afternoon with the radio blaring listening to our guys call our ladies in the opening round game against California. I can’t wait. Cal is good. Heck, they are the number one seed. But LSU’s got two things that it needs to have every chance in the world when the month of May turns into June.
Pitching and defense. Fico and Mack.
Oh yea, and a special coach named Beth Torina.