LSU senior center fielder Aliyah Andrews can influence the success of her team in a variety of ways.
When it’s with a bat in her hand, it’s commonplace for Andrew to apply pressure to opposing defenses placing balls in the infield and turning them into base hits with her speed.
Andrews took that to a new level Tuesday against Southern Mississippi.
She turned a sinking line drive that got past diving USM left fielder Caroline Worrell into a lead-off inside-the-park homer in the first inning, which served as the catalyst in her team’s 11-3 mercy-rule victory in six innings at Tiger Park.
“What a way to set the tone right off the bat,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said. “To come out and do something like that. It allows the rest of your team to breathe, just allows everybody to relax and just play softball.”
It was a milestone moment for Andrews, whose homer for was first of her career spanning 227 games and 667 plate appearances.
“I kind of didn’t realize it actually,” said Andrews, who had her home run ball returned as a keepsake. “At first, I didn’t know that she dove for it. I didn’t know what happened. I saw Coach wave me around. I don’t know if I even realized it was a home run until later. It was cool for sure.”
LSU (12-5) broke the game open with a six-run second inning, ignited by freshman Ali Newland’s lead-off homer. The Tigers were able to close out the run-rule victory on Taylor Pleasants’ run-scoring single.
The comfortable early lead enabled Torina to substitute liberally. She wound up using 18 position players and two pitchers in her team’s final preparation for this weekend’s three-game home series with seventh-ranked Texas.
The Longhorns visit Tiger Park for a single game at 7 p.m. Friday followed by a doubleheader Saturday starting at 3 p.m.
“With this season and the way it is and all of the challenges with COVID, I think it’s important to have your entire roster ready,” Torina said. “Anytime we get a chance to get people ready we need to take it. I think it’s more important than ever just to find some at bats for people.
“Also, we’re still competing at a couple of positions. There’s a couple of spots that aren’t solidified that people are still competing in. Just trying to get people prepared for whatever opportunities might come our way.”
With eight players collecting at least one hit as part of LSU’s 11-hit attack, and freshman pitcher Taylor Edwards making her collegiate debut in relief of winning pitcher Shelby Wickersham, Andrews thought the experience was invaluable for the Tigers on the cusp of a marquee series with Texas.
“It was really important,” she said. “It was cool that we did get ahead early only because a lot of people got opportunities. Not regular starters got a chance to get some at bats and play in the field. Having them be able to do that prepares them if their name’s called in the future.
“And a lot of them rose to the challenge and were prepared. Being able to do that in the midweek going into a big weekend with Texas is just important knowing we have a whole team who is ready, who is prepared and puts in the work.”
Newland’s homer touched off a 6-run second inning that also included an RBI-single from Pleasants (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) and the Tigers also feasted on two walks and a hit batter with the bases loaded to produce three additional runs.
“I thought she had a lot of good at bats and did some good things,” Torina said of Newland, who played both right field and catcher. “We’re able to get her behind the plate a little, too, for the first time this year. She’s so versatile and can do so many things. She’s definitely put the work in.”
LSU’s defense committed three errors that led to unearned runs in the fourth and fifth innings, enabling USM (11-5) to cut the lead to 7-3.
Wickersham (3-1) allowed five hits in five innings with no earned runs. She walked one and struck out five, while Stewart worked a scoreless sixth inning with a walk and strikeout.
LSU scored three times in the fifth, taking advantage of another bases-loaded walk to score Akiya Thymes (2-3), and left fielder Savannah Stewart drove in two runs with a single to left.
The Tigers closed out the game an inning later when Pleasants drove in Karrington Houshmandzadeh, who led off with a single.