College Softball: Tigers banking on experience and resiliency at Women's College World Series
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Of all the things she learned from three previous trips to the Women's College World Series in her first five seasons at LSU, Beth Torina knows this: You don't stop learning.
"Yeah, I think every time we've been here we try to learn something from it ... we try to get better at it," Torina said. "It takes a learning curve to be good at this tournament.
"It's different than anything we do all season long, so having a good understanding of how to approach it should help this time around."
Specifically, Torina is hoping that getting here three years in a row may help LSU take the next step toward its first national championship in the sport on the heels of back-to-back third-place finishes the past two seasons.
So, familiarity has been a major theme for LSU since the Tigers rallied from a game down in the Tallahassee super regional last weekend to earn a spot in the WCWS that gets underway Thursday.
No. 13 LSU, the second-lowest national seed of the eight teams that made the WCWS, will get a shot to show what it learned over the past two seasons when it faces fifth-seeded UCLA at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in USA Hall of Fame Stadium.
A more confident LSU (47-20) actually may have already shown some of it in returning to the WCWS for another shot at going deeper into the double-elimination tournament, with UCLA (47-13) up first.
The Tigers took an unlikely path that included having to fight their way out of the losers' bracket to win the NCAA Baton Rouge regional before climbing back from a one-game deficit to take down Florida State in the supers.
"This team has had a lot of ups and downs, but every team does," Torina said. "It's a long season, so to see them fight through everything they fought through the last few weeks is really impressive.
"It shows their grit, it shows their mental toughness," she said. "It's something that we're really proud of."
The players know how hard they had to work just to get where they are, which All-American outfielder Bailey Landry said could be a plus in this tournament.
"If we find ourselves in a bad spot, remember we haven't done this real easy," Landry said of the advice she gives teammates. "We're always fighting our way back -- the Fighting Tigers. Just remember, 'We can pretty much do anything possible.' "
In addition to knowing what to expect in the WCWS, LSU gets to start against UCLA, which the Tigers have played in each of the past two seasons.
LSU prevailed 10-5 in 2016, but UCLA won the rematch 6-5 in eight innings on Feb. 25 after the Tigers forced extra innings with three runs in the top of the seventh.
"We're definitely happy to have seen them before," Landry said. "They have a great team and a great program. In the game that we played them, it was a close game so I feel we're a pretty good match."
On the other hand, UCLA, which has won 18 of its past 19 games after losing three of four in early April, knows LSU.
The Bruins swept all three games in its regional, then posted a pair of one-run wins over Ole Miss in the super regional to set up another game with the Tigers.
The star of UCLA's 11-inning, first-game win over Ole Miss was redshirt freshman pitcher Rachel Garcia, who threw 252 pitches and also hit a home run. She has a 22-7 record and 1.92 ERA in the circle and is hitting .327 with seven homers and 27 RBIs.
"I remember their pitching was solid, their hitting is always good and their defense is pretty solid, too," said catcher Sahvanna Jaquish, who Wednesday was named a first-team All-American along with Landry. "You're not going to the World Series by accident. They're a well-rounded team."
Jaquish, a native Californian, was almost the hero of that first game against UCLA. She belted a bases-clearing double to tie the game in the seventh before the Bruins won it in the eighth on an error.
"We were the victim of one pitch -- one bad pitch -- the last time we saw them," Torina said. "They're talented, they're going to be really good. They'll have a good pitcher on the mound."
Still, Torina said her team has what it takes to get off to a good start.
"It's the same thing we've been doing all year long, playing big and playing fearlessly," Torina said. "We can't get caught up in the moment ... we can't make it bigger than it is."