No. 11 LSU had the definitive answer softball coach Beth Torina was looking for.
Less than 18 hours after serving up a walk-off home run that prevented LSU from sweeping a doubleheader from No. 22 Tennessee, the Tigers jumped out to an early lead in Sunday’s finale and never looked back.
LSU pounded out 10 hits, including home runs from Shelbi Sunseri, Georgia Clark and Amanda Doyle, and built a 11-0 advantage before settling for an 11-3 run-rule victory in five innings to secure the Southeastern Conference-opening series in Knoxville, Tenn.
“We know what our potential is,” Clark said. “We’re ready to set the bar, set the pace and Saturday night we had a chance to win that game and we knew coming for the third game, we wanted this game. We wanted the big moment and I’m really glad we won it on their home field.”
LSU (15-7, 2-1 in SEC) took a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Tennessee’s ace Ashley Rogers, tacked on three more runs in the third and exploded for five more in the fourth.
Tennessee (18-3, 1-2) scored three runs in the fifth inning. But second baseman Taylor Tidwell recorded the final out on a line drive with the bases loaded to invoke the eight-run mercy rule.
“A series win, especially on the road in the SEC, is a big deal,” Torina said. “The fact that we’re able to get it done in any way shape or form is huge for our team.”
LSU’s offense rebounded in a big way after collecting a total of seven hits in Saturday’s doubleheader. The Tigers were limited to two runs and four hits in the first game by Rogers, who threw a total of 142 pitches in eight innings.
Torina credited her team’s ability to get Tennessee to send Rogers back out in relief for a nine-pitch outing in the second game that paid dividends in Sunday’s game.
The Tigers scored three times on three hits against Rogers in the top of the first inning with Sunseri (2-for-3, 4 RBIs) driving in Aliyah Andrews with a two-out single and Clark adding a two-run homer that was her first in her last seven games.
“I told them after the game, they won the series yesterday by forcing her (Rogers) back in that second game after throwing extra innings in the first game,” Torina said. “It put a lot of pressure and wear on her which created a good situation for us today.”
Clark (2-2, 2 RBIs) hit the first pitch she saw from Rogers out of the park to left field with Sunseri aboard.
“We went back and watched some film, and we knew the adjustments we wanted to make coming into this game and our first five to six hitters in the lineup really set the tone really well for the rest of the game,” Clark said. “They put us in a position where we could be more relaxed throughout the rest of the game.”
The heart of LSU’s offense – Doyle, Sunseri and Clark – were a combined 6 of 8 at the plate with three homers and nine RBIs.
“They did a great job,” Torina said. “It’s nice to see them have those big swings. We know they’re capable of it. We just need for them to get their legs under them and get going. It’s good to see Georgia have a good day. She’s never quit on us and just continues to battle and I’m glad to see her on the right side of things today.”
Doyle (2-3, 3 RBIs) homered for the first time in nine games, hitting her team-leading seventh homer of the season with Taylor Pleasants on board after a single to lead off the third. Catcher Morgan Cummins added an RBI-single to left field.
LSU scored five times on four hits and took advantage of two of UT’s three errors to blow the game open.
Doyle ignited the Tigers’ scoring with a run-scoring single and Sunseri followed with her fifth homer of the season – a three-run blast to left field for a 10-0 lead.
Winning pitcher Shelby Wickersham (4-2) worked 4.1 innings, allowing three runs (one earned) on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts. Sunseri came on in relief with one out in the fifth and recorded a strikeout and a walk before coaxing a bases-loaded liner to Tidwell to end the game.
“We have a lot of veteran leaders on our team,” Clark said. “They really set the tone for our younger players. A lot of us don’t have any or a lot of SEC experience under our belts and it was big for them to set the tone and tell us how important it was for us to come out and win these two games.”