Game-changing lifts can come in different shapes and sizes.
For LSU’s softball team, it came with the SEC experimenting with replay for the first time in the league tournament.
The No. 5 seeded Tigers benefitted from an overturned fourth-inning replay call that enabled them to expand their lead and ride momentum to a 7-3 first-round victory over No. 13 seeded South Carolina at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“That was a really big part of the game, a really big turning point,” LSU’s winning pitcher Shelbi Sunseri said. “It kind of shifted the momentum our way and I think we were able to capitalize on it and get another run. It really helped keep the momentum on our side.”
LSU (32-18) advanced to Thursday’s second round against fourth-seeded Missouri in a game scheduled for approximately 1:35 p.m. on the SEC Network.
“If you try and tackle 12 of the best teams in the country in four days, you’ll come up short all the time,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “Can we tackle one opponent each day? Yes. That’s where we’re at.”
Sunseri (9-6), who allowed six hits, carried a shutout into the sixth inning before exiting after allowing a three-run homer. Ali Kilponen pitched a scoreless 1.1 innings, striking out two batters to pick up her second save of the season.
“It was important that she gave us this performance,” Torina said of Sunseri. “It’s always tough to get that first one and kind of get your team going and she did that.”
LSU’s offense piled up 11 hits – getting a hit in every inning – with Aliyah Andrews, Ciarra Briggs, Savannah Stewart and Sunseri collecting two hits each and five players driving in a run against three South Carolina pitchers.
The game’s turning point, though, took place in the fourth after Stewart led off the inning with a single. After an out, a pitch from USC’s losing pitcher Leah Powell popped out of the mitt of catcher Jordain Fabian, putting into motion the sequence where the Tigers took control with a 3-0 lead.
With Stewart breaking for second on the passed ball, Fabian’s throw bounced into the ground and off the leg of a base umpire and into shallow left field.
When Stewart picked herself up to head toward third base, she initially ran into USC shortstop Kenzi Maguire who was in the base path. Stewart rounded third base and was thrown out at the plate, drawing a challenge from Torina.
The call on the field was reversed and LSU took a 2-0 lead when Stewart was awarded home because of an obstruction call. The Tigers went on to load the bases with a pair of walks by Danieca Coffey and Ciara Briggs and Andrews’ single, and Coffey scored on a wild pitch on the first pitch to Pleasants.
“I did see the obstruction and was trying to get it called when Savannah went on home,” Torina said. “It really did work out. It was definitely obstruction. There was no question that it was there. It was a big momentum shift.”
LSU took a 1-0 lead in the first on Amanda Doyle’s deep drive to left for a sacrifice fly to score Andrews. The Tigers carried the momentum from the pivotal fourth inning when they padded their lead to 7-3 after South Carolina had made it 5-3 in the top of the sixth inning.
The Tigers led 5-0 when Stewart doubled in pinch-runner Taryn Antoine and Sunseri followed with a run-scoring single to left that scored Stewart. South Carolina answered in the top of the sixth on Katie Prebble’s three-run home run.
LSU’s defense, which turned a double play in the first inning, got another gem in the sixth when Andrews went straight back on a deep drive to center field off the bat of USC pinch-hitter Cayla Drotar. She made a leaping catch of a ball over her head for the second out before crashing into the padded outfield wall.
After Sunseri walked pinch-hitter Zoe Laneaux, Kilponen was brought into the game. She ended the sixth with a called third strike and pitched a perfect seventh.
LSU responded in the bottom half of the sixth with a pair of runs after two were out on run-scoring singles from Georgia Clark and Raeleen Gutierrez.
“The way the offense continued to score throughout the game was a big deal,” Torina said. “Being able to keep the pressure on was a big reason why we had success.”