The litmus test for LSU’s suddenly surging offense was supposed to come from UL-Lafayette pitching ace Summer Ellyson in Saturday’s second round of the NCAA softball regional
After twice defeating the Cajuns’ third-team All-American and two-time Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year in February, the Tigers were even better nearly three months later.
Top-seeded LSU batted around against Ellyson in the first inning, scoring five runs on seven hits and never looked back in a 10-3 victory over second-seeded UL-Lafayette before a crowd of 2,475 at Tiger Park.
LSU (34-19) advances to Sunday’s regional championship game at 1 p.m. needing only one win against UL-Lafayette, which eliminated fourth-seeded McNeese State 4-0, to reach next week’s super regional.
“It’s the spot where I team wants to be,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said. “I think they expect to be there and I’m glad they’ve been able to swing their way into it. They’ve done such a great job offensively.”
A day after posting 10 runs on 12 hits in Friday’s 10-2 opening-round win over McNeese State, LSU matched that run total on the strength of 17 hits, one off its season high, that included five extra base hits.
Five players had three hits apiece with third baseman Amanda Doyle (3-for-5) remaining red hot with a double and 2 RBIs, pitcher Shelbi Sunseri (3 for 4, 2B, 3 RBIs) who homered for the second straight game and freshman first baseman Raeleen Gutierrez (3 for 4, 2B, 3 RBIs) who capped her team’s first-inning uprising with a three-run homer.
“We did a good job of getting on the board and just attacking their pitcher,” Sunseri said. “When we do that, when we get a lead, it’s easier as a pitcher to go out there, and if we throw our game, and just let the defense work. After the first inning, that’s kind of what coach told me to do, just go out there and let my stuff work and let our defense play.”
Sunseri (11-6) turned in her second straight complete-game effort. She allowed three runs on eight hits, walked one and struck out four.
“It’s a blessing that she has confidence in me,” Sunseri said of Torina. “She has confidence in everyone on our staff. When we watched film, we saw what they struggled with and coach picks who pitches by the matchup and who’s best at it. That’s one thing she knew I was going to get a lot of ground balls (10 outs) and as long as we let our defense work, we would be fine.”
UL-Lafayette (45-11) took a 1-0 lead against Sunseri when lead-off batter Ciara Bryan homered over the scoreboard in right field.
LSU took a 4-0 road victory over UL-Lafayette on Feb. 25 in which Ellyson started and took the loss after allowing nine hits. She also came on in relief two days later at Tiger Park when the Tigers snapped a 2-all tie with a run in the sixth and victory over Ellyson.
“Summer’s as talented as anyone in the game,” Torina said. “I have no idea the reason why it was different today. I think our team was prepared and they did a good job. Summer’s a special pitcher and has been for them for years and years.”
Aliyah Andrews and Ciara Briggs – who also had three hits apiece – set the table for LSU’s lineup in the first with infield singles. Taylor Pleasants was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Doyle, whose first-inning homer enabled LSU to take the lead for good Friday against McNeese, doubled in two runs over the head of UL-Lafayette’s left fielder Kendall Talley. Gutierrez made it 5-1 with a one-out home run that hit the top of the right field foul pole.
“I was blowing it the other way,” said Gutierrez, who homered for the third time this season. “I didn’t want it to go foul. Me and (first base) coach Lindsey (Leftwich) we were blowing, making sure that baby stayed in.”
The Tigers loaded the bases again on three singles from Sunseri, catcher Morgan Cummins and Andrews – a stretch in which seven of their first eight batters successfully reached base – when Ellyson was lifted after two-thirds of an inning for relief pitcher Vanessa Foreman.
It equaled the shortest outing of the season for Ellyson (24-7), who allowed five earned runs on seven hits with one strike out on 37 pitches.
“It was just a bad game,” UL-Lafayette coach Gerry Glasco said. “Horrible time to play a bad game and we did. LSU hit the ball well. Seventeen hits allowed, we did not get strikeouts or make defensive plays, which is a poor effort on our part. Very disappointed.”
LSU increased its lead to 7-2 in the second on Sunseri’s double to left and Cummins’ RBI-single in the fourth scored Gutierrez who had a one-out double.
The Ragin’ Cajuns added a run in the fifth and had two runners on in the sixth when Gutierrez flashed her glove work, diving for a grounder in the hole in which she popped up and ran to first base to end the inning.
Sunseri unloaded her eighth homer of the season – the 33rd of her career (tying for fourth in program history) – to lead off the sixth and Briggs singled home Andrews after she tripled with two outs.
“Every time they did something we were able to answer,” Torina said. “That is a really deflating thing for the other team. We continue to put pressure on people and keep the momentum is huge moving forward.”