OKLAHOMA CITY — Shortly after LSU’s history-making softball season came to an abrupt end Sunday afternoon, coach Beth Torina tried to put things in context for her players.
The sting of a 6-3 loss to Michigan in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium had to be felt more acutely than the historic accomplishments that helped bring LSU to the WCWS for the fourth time in school history.
LSU (52-14) began this season with a school-record 25-game winning streak. It earned the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time and held it off and on for six weeks. It hosted a super regional for the first time and reached the final four before Sunday’s setback.
But the Wolverines (59-6) advanced to the best-of-three championship series against defending national champion Florida, beginning at 7 p.m. Monday, after winning their 28th consecutive game.
“I hope none of my players are hanging their heads,” Torina said. “I think the sadness is not necessarily the way it ended, but the fact it had to end because it was so incredibly enjoyable.”
For much of the game, it appeared it might not end right away. The Tigers took 1-0 and 3-1 leads but couldn’t hold on and force a winner-take-all game Sunday night for the second berth in the final.
Freshman Carley Hoover (18-7), making her third start and fourth appearance in the WCWS, was seeking her fifth victory in the NCAA tournament.
“I’ve always wanted the ball in every big situation we’ve had all season, and Coach knows that,” Hoover said.
“I’ll even tell her if I really, really want it. I wanted it today, and I just didn’t get the job done.”
The score was tied at 3 when Hoover walked Lindsay Montemarano leading off the sixth. After a forceout, a slow roller to shortstop by Tera Blanco and a bloop to center by Abby Ramirez produced consecutive singles that loaded the bases.
Then leadoff hitter Sierra Lawrence ripped a double down the third-base line to score two runs and break a 3-3 tie. The Wolverines added a run when Lawrence came home on the back end of a double steal.
“We’ve had heart and soul all year, and we showed it again today,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We just do what we do, whether we’re ahead or behind. We just keep playing in our moment.”
The Tigers got to starter Megan Betsa for three runs in 3.2 innings but couldn’t score against left-hander Haylie Wagner (24-2) in 3.1 innings.
“She has come in, and she has energized us,” Hutchins said of Wagner. “She’s attacking hitters, and she’s giving us the confidence that we need on the mound. That’s what the pitcher’s job is — to set the tone that we can win this game.”
LSU took a 1-0 lead in the second when Kellsi Kloss drew a one-out walk, went to third on Sandra Simmons’ single and scored on Constance Quinn’s sacrifice fly.
The Wolverines evened the score with one out in the third when All-American Sierra Romero lined a 2-2 pitch from Hoover over the fence down the left-field line for her 22nd home run of the season and the school-record 63rd of her career.
“I was just trying to get on base,” Romero said. “I was trying to hit the ball hard. If I’m going to get out, I want it to at least be a hard out.”
The Tigers regained the lead in the fourth when Bailey Landry lined an 0-2 pitch to left for a two-run double.
“The first two pitches I saw, I thought they were a little bit high and out,” Landry said. “I knew, if she threw the next pitch high, I would have to get on top of the ball. I had popped out my first at-bat, and I knew I had to get my hand above it and go with it.”
Michigan came right back to tie it in the bottom half. Montemarano doubled with one out and, one out later, Blanco singled her home.
Ramirez singled Blanco to second, a Hoover wild pitch sent pinch runner Nikki Wald to third and she continued home when catcher Kloss’ throw to third sailed into left field.
Then the tension built as the Tigers, who won three consecutive elimination games to capture the Baton Rouge regional two weeks earlier, couldn’t duplicate the feat.
The most productive offensive team in LSU history had a base runner in every inning after the first but left nine runners on base.
“I think they should walk out of here with their heads held high,” Torina said, “because they had a truly historic season for LSU.”