COLUMBIA, S.C. – Hungry for its first SEC Softball Tournament win since 2010, the No. 25 and sixth-seeded LSU Tigers scored two runs in the first inning and got four more over the course of the game, as senior hurler Ashley Czechner twirled her first shutout of the season in a 6-0 victory over No. 14 and third seed Missouri Thursday afternoon at the Carolina Softball Stadium.
LSU (35-21) advances to the semifinals and will take on the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 7 seed Kentucky on Thursday at 2 p.m. on ESPNU. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Tigers in the SEC’s main event, as the squad earned its first shutout in the tournament since holding Auburn scoreless in a 4-0 win in Baton Rouge in 2008.
After LSU drew first blood with its two runs in the very first inning, neither side would plate another until the fourth, and that’s when the team would start to put the pressure back on Missouri (41-16) as over the course of the next three LSU would score all four runs while Missouri committed three errors to allow the Tigers to go up big and keep it that way en route to the program’s third shutout of Missouri in nine all-time meetings.
“I thought it was a nice all-around victory for us where our offense really set the tone in the top half of that first inning,” head softball coach Beth Torina said. “That made a huge difference for us in the game because we came out swinging and swinging big.”
First team All-SEC pick Sahvanna Jaquish finished the game 2-for-2 with her ninth double of the season, two RBI and two runs scored, while Sandra Simmons went 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored in her 14th multi-hit outing of the year. Bailey Landry had the shot of the day late in the game, hitting her first career home run as she finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored, while Bianka Bell drilled her 11th double of the year and finished 1-for-3 with an RBI.
Jacee Blades and A.J. Andrews each had the final two hits for the Tigers on Thursday, as Andrews was walked once and Blades scored twice.
“I think I was relaxed at the plate, and I believed in what my teammates were doing,” Jaquish said. “When they swing well, I swing well, so it gives me a lot of confidence. The whole team was just on it today.”
Going up against the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in the circle, experience reigned as Czechner locked down the Missouri offense to the tune of four hits for the opposition, as she earned the complete-game victory needing just 83 pitches to secure her 13th victory of the season. Pitching in her home state, Czechner struck out four and walked one, retiring 10 consecutive batters from the fourth to the seventh in becoming the first Tiger pitcher since Cody Trahan in 2008 and tenth in team history to earn a shutout in the tourney.
“I thought Ashley did a great job of keeping their offense off-balance for much of the game, and pitched just a really nice game,” Torina said.
Missouri’s Toni Finucane took just her sixth loss of the year on Thursday, allowing five runs, two earned, on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts in five innings of work. She was replaced by Casey Stangel who pitched the final two and allowed a run on a hit with a walk and strikeout. The four Missouri’s hits were scattered throughout the lineup and shared between Taylor Gadbois, Emily Crane, Corrin Genovese and Natalie Fleming on the afternoon.
After a foul out to third, Blades got the game’s first hit with a single through the middle to reach first. Down to her final strike, Jaquish lifted one into the gap in right center to score Blades all the way from first to put the Tigers on top 1-0. Bell didn’t wait to make her at-bat count as she followed suit with a screaming double to center to score Jaquish and make it 2-0 LSU.
In the top of the fourth, Simmons singled to left center, moving to second after a sacrifice bunt by Allison Falcon and then to third on a grounder to short by Tammy Wray. With Landry at the plate, the LSU outfielder hit a grounder to third that was misplayed allowing Simmons to score to make it 3-0 with one still on and two outs. Andrews connected on a single of her own through the right side of the infield, but got held up between first and second while Landry was trying to make it home but was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
After some defensive changes for Missouri in the top of the fifth inning, Blades reached on a throwing error and advanced to second to get into scoring position. Jaquish came through again with a single to center as Blades breezed past third and slid in for the score to make it a four-run game, as Jaquish advanced to second after a throwing error. A walk to Bell put two on, as a strikeout proved to be the first out of the frame. Simmons drove one to center to score Jaquish to give the Tigers a 5-0 lead, as Bell was thrown out trying to advance to third after the ball was bobbled in the outfield with Simmons moving to second. The sophomore advanced to third on a wild pitch, but remained there as the inning ended with a strikeout.
After a pitching change for Missouri in the top of the sixth that produced a grounder to short in the first at-bat of the inning, Landry ripped a high-flying shot that carried deep into center and eventually over the fence for the solo shot to put LSU on top 6-0 over Missouri.
“During SEC play, you are going up against some of the best teams in the country and anything can happen, so you always have to be ready,” Czechner said. “I just want to play well for my teammates, and I know they are going to play well behind me.”