Saying good-bye for the final time is gut-wrenching.
A senior class that extends back as far as six years made the moment even more difficult for LSU softball coach Beth Torina in the wake of Friday’s stunning 4-3 NCAA Super Regional loss to Florida State in nine innings that brought the 2021 season to a close before a crowd of 2,410 at Tiger Park.
No. 7 LSU (35-22) was swept in the best-of-3 series in a pair of agonizing one-run losses, including the finale that marked the second time in three years the Tigers were eliminated by the Seminoles in the Super Regionals.
“I am as proud today as any day to be the coach of the LSU Tigers,” Torina said. “I am not emotional because we lost. I am emotional because of this senior class and what they’ve been through this year. What a tough year and all the adversity they faced and then they played a game like that. I can’t imagine where we’d be if the four seniors hadn’t returned.”
No. 10 Florida State (44-10-1) won for the seventh time in eight games and advances to make its 11th appearance in the Women’s College World Series. The Seminoles won the national championship in 2018.
“Hat’s off to LSU, incredible team,” FSU softball coach Lonni Alameda said. “The fights we’ve had over the years makes it so much fun. They’re an incredible team that’s coached well and this was an incredible place for hosting.”
Florida State, which battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2, was down to its last out when Elizabeth Mason bashed a game-tying two-out solo homer in the eighth that completely deflated the Tigers.
After nearly three hours of being on the bench, FSU’s Kiersten Landers was called on to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth for shortstop Josie Muffley and delivered a walk-off hit against LSU’s Ali Kilponen. The left-handed hitting Landers, who appeared for the first time in the series, laced a 2-2 pitch down the left field line just outside a diving Amanda Doyle at third base, scoring outfielder Dani Morgan with the game-winning run.
“I just wanted to be there for my team and do what’s best for my team,” Landers said. “I had many innings to watch her pitch, so I just wanted to be ready when it was my time.”
Kilponen (15-9) suffered the loss, allowing four runs on eight hits. She walked two and struck out five on a career-high 145 pitches.
“I feel awful, but we went down fighting,” Kilponen said. “That’s LSU softball. It wasn’t easy for them.”
After getting shutout 1-0 in Thursday’s opener, LSU positioned itself for a possible breakthrough victory that would have a forced a third and deciding game Saturday.
First baseman Georgia Clark (3-for-4) homered with Taylor Pleasants aboard in the fourth inning for a 2-0 lead, a margin that held up until the sixth inning. She tied Doyle for second on the team with her 10th homer of the season.
LSU, which totaled eight hits, ended a scoreless dry spell that reached 10.1 innings during the Super Regional on Clark’s two-run blast against FSU starting pitcher Caylan Arnold.
FSU made it 2-1 in the sixth on Mason’s RBI-single up the middle, but Kilponen helped to get LSU out of the inning when she started a 1-6-3 double play that first baseman Raeleen Gutierrez completed after digging the ball out of the dirt.
The Seminoles tied the game and came within a whisker of winning it in the seventh after a miscommunication between Pleasants and second baseman Taylor Tidwell resulted in a fielder’s choice instead of the first out of the inning or a potential double play.
“Pleasants is deciding whether to take it herself or throw it to Taylor and just didn’t make a good decision,” Torina said. “She’s a freshman and played lights out all year, arguably one of the best we’ll ever have with her career in front of her.”
LSU had to dig deep to keep the game going after Devyn Flaherty scored the tying run on the first passed ball of the season by catcher Morgan Cummins.
FSU, with runners at second and third, pushed its chips in the middle of the table and put on a suicide squeeze with Muffley still batting, but Gutierrez alertly charged up the line, gloved the ball and flipped to Cummins who tagged out Mason.
LSU ended a stretch of four scoreless innings in the eighth against relief pitcher Danielle Watson when Pleasants (3-4) cracked a one-out solo homer – her team-high 13th – to left field on a 2-0 offering.
Watson (10-1) picked up the win, allowing just the homer to Pleasants in 4.2 innings of work. She allowed three hits, walked one and struck out one.
“This will fuel them, and they will go to work,” Torina said of her returning team. “Next time we are in this spot, we will win. I am confident about that.”