By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Self-awareness has always been an important factor for LSU softball’s first-year head coach Beth Torina. As a standout pitcher at Florida, she knew she might not be the most talented, but she also knew she could outwork anyone. That taught her an important lesson – to go with your strengths.
It is a lesson that her LSU team has learned en route to its first Women’s College World Series appearance since the 2004 season. The Tigers take on No. 1 California at 3:30 p.m. ET on Thursday to open their WCWS appearance in a game that will be televised live on ESPN2.
Identity has been a struggle at times this season for LSU. The Tigers strung together a season-best 12-game winning streak from March 16 to April 4, but entered the postseason on a four-game losing streak, having lost eight of its last 10 games and 14 of its final 20. LSU was the No. 6 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and lost a 1-0 decision to Florida in the event’s opening round.
Since that time, the Tigers have been on a tear. LSU swept through its regional with wins against Texas State and No. 8 national seed Texas A&M to advance to the program’s first NCAA Super Regional campaign since the 2007 season. LSU then took down No. 9 national seed Missouri in Columbia in Super Regional play to advance to the Women’s College World Series.
For LSU, finding its identity has been as important of a factor as any in that journey.
“I think, for the first time, our team really understands who they are as an offense,” Torina said. “I think we struggled a lot of the season trying to be something that we aren’t. We don’t have power numbers. It’s obvious on paper. I think we are capable of scoring runs. We finally understand who we are. We are able to do that by being more productive; having more productive at-bats, manufacturing and not trying to look for the one swing or the one big hit.”
LSU senior Juliana Santos echoed her coach’s sentiments at Wednesday’s press conference in Oklahoma City, saying that her team hasn’t focused on any of the adversity it faced during the regular season, it has centered its thoughts on what it can accomplish moving forward.
“Basically after the SEC Tournament, the coaches just talked to us and they said ‘You know, from here on out, everybody is even. It doesn’t matter what you did, it matters what you do from here on out.’” Santos said. “At practice, we really focused on being selfless; moving the runners and not trying to do too much for yourself, but to do something for somebody else. I think we were obviously very successful at that. We were able to move the runners and score the few runs we needed to score with such an amazing pitching staff that we have.”
The Tigers know they have a tall test in front of them on Thursday, facing the tournament’s top seed and its two-time First-Team All-America pitcher Jolene Henderson. LSU lost to Cal 14-3 earlier this season, but is excited for an opportunity at a re-match.
“We have seen Jolene before, so we know we are confident,” Santos said. “We know what she throws and we have been working hard on it. We were able to manufacture runs off her. Obviously, the game didn’t end the way we wanted it to the first time for us. Lucky for us, we get another chance. Another chance doesn’t happen very often. Just playing that first game and manufacturing those runs that we can is really going to count tomorrow.”