LSU set the scene for a dramatic conclusion to its Southeastern Conference home opener with Texas A&M.
The Tigers were able to accomplish a rare feat in Saturday’s matchup against Texas A&M pitcher Makinzy Herzog, getting two runners into scoring position with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
However, the was no magic in that final at bat, with Herzog coming back from being down in the count with a strikeout of LSU’s ninth-place hitter and freshman second baseman Danieca Coffey for the final out to send the Tigers to a 2-1 defeat in the first game of a three-game SEC series at Tiger Park.
“I wish we could have done some of that earlier, try to keep the pressure on them,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said. “I loved the spot at the end. At the time I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather give the at bat to. That kid’s a fighter and finds ways to get on base. I believe in her wholeheartedly.”
LSU (16-8, 2-2 in SEC) will host the Aggies (20-3, 1-0) in the second game of the series at 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Tigers have been in this position before, having dropped the first game of a three-game non conference series to then-seventh-ranked Texas and rallied to sweep the final two games.
“It’s a three-game series for a reason,” LSU senior third baseman Amanda Doyle said. “You have a best of three, you’ve just got to win two of them. Just flushing that first one and going out tomorrow and kind of pretending like it didn’t happen. Just go out and fight and play LSU softball.”
Herzog (8-1) no-hit LSU for 5.2 innings until Doyle’s run-scoring single down the line in right field also broke up her bid for a shutout, drawing the Tigers to within the final score. The 5-foot-7 right-hander allowed two hits, walked three and struck out six for her seventh complete game of the season.
“She did exactly what we thought she would do,” Torina said of Herzog. “We worked on a plan for her the last couple of days and we just didn’t execute the plan. Didn’t have enough people make enough adjustments throughout. We got out the same way, multiple hitters getting out the same way which I think can’t happen. We’ve just got to make adjustments sooner.”
Ciara Briggs collected LSU’s second hit against Herzog, beating out an infield single and pinch-hitter Raeleen Gutierrez drew a walk and was replaced at first base by pinch-runner Akiya Thymes.
Allie Newland re-entered the game after being replaced in right field by Taryn Antoine and drove a ball to deep center field, but the ball was caught for the second out, moving both runners up a base and into scoring position.
Coffey, who previously struck out and grounded out, got the count full and after fouling off a third pitch struck out swinging to end the game and extend Texas A&M’s win streak to 10 games.
“We were right there,” Torina said. “We just need to get there earlier in the game.”
Herzog, who walked three and struck out six, threw a total of 111 pitches. She averaged 13 to 14 pitches per inning through the first five innings in retiring LSU until the Tigers were able to extend the sixth and seventh innings, forcing Herzog to throw a combined 50 pitches in those two frames.
“We didn’t make too many adjustments,” Doyle said. “Everything kind of has an up-tick (rise) to it and we didn’t make adjustments until late, so that kind of bit us there. If we would have made adjustments sooner if it would have been a different ball game. Everything we kind of going up more than we expected.”
Designated player Shelbi Sunseri came within inches of potentially tying the game after Doyle’s breakthrough single. She sent a liner toward the left-field line that went foul and two pitches later, lofted a change-up to Herzog for the final out of the sixth.
Herzog retired the first seven batters she faced until a one-out walk to Newland who wound up reaching up base when Aliyah Andrews’ one-hopper over the circle was misplayed into an error.
However, Herzog ended the inning with a strikeout of shortstop Taylor Pleasants on three pitches.
Herzog had another stretch where she retired seventh batters in a row until Andrews drew a one-out walk and after Pleasants struck out swinging, stole second base on the second pitch during Doyle’s plate appearance.
LSU starter Shelby Wickersham (4-3) was tagged with the loss, allowing three hits, one earned run, three walks and struck out four in four innings. She allowed a lead-off homer to right fielder Morgan Smith in the second inning but avoided any further trouble until Ali Kilponen came on in relief with two runners on in the fifth.
Kilponen escaped with a strikeout and double-play ground ball started by Coffey, but A&M added an important insurance run in the sixth when designated player Ashlynn Walls brought home a run with a two-out single up the middle.
“The good thing about an SEC series is that we have three games, and this is just one game,” Doyle said. “We have to come out tomorrow and fight.”