Dig Baton Rouge

Oklahoma City Bound

By Morgan Prewitt
@kmprewitt_TDR

Sophomore right fielder Bailey Landry and junior first baseman Sandra Simmons are not divas in any sense of the word.

During interviews, they credit their teammates and coaches for their success, letting others shine.  On the field, they quietly command the right side by making stellar catches night in and night out.

In the eighth-ranked Tigers victory in the Baton Rouge Super Regional against Arizona this weekend, the humble duo stepped into the spotlight in a surprising way – with power at the plate.

“This team truly understands the team concept,” LSU coach Beth Torina said.  “Everybody has a role, and they play it to the absolute best of their ability. There are never any hard feelings or selfishness with this group. They are just so selfless with whatever we ask them to do.”

Coming into postseason, Landry had not hit a ball out of the park since May 17, 2014, in the Tucson NCAA Regional against Boston University, while Simmons had only notched three homers in the 2015 regular season.

Throughout their LSU careers, both Landry and Simmons have made a name for themselves with their defense and versatility the plate, not with their power numbers.

For the last two seasons, sophomore third baseman Sahvanna Jaquish and junior shortstop Bianka Bell have rewritten the Tigers’ home run records, combining for 65 of the Tigers’ 125 homers.

But the power-hitting role switched hands during the Super Regional when Landry and Simmons notched the only two homers hit by either team last weekend.

Landry’s turn in the limelight came in LSU’s mercy-rule Game 1 victory against the Wildcats on Saturday when she combined outstanding defense with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate, including a two-run homer in the third inning.

After using her speed to record her fourth postseason run in the first inning, Landry awed the crowd at Tiger Park with a SportsCenter Top-10 double play to end the top of the second inning.

With one out and a runner on first, Arizona third baseman Lauren Young hit a pitch off LSU’s freshman pitcher Carley Hoover high and deep into foul territory along the right field line.

Landry tracked it down to make the catch just a few feet in front of the first base bullpen before turning and picking off the runner sprinting toward second for the double play.

“I knew the first ball was foul, but I knew I had to catch it,” Landry said. “[The runner at first] went and I just threw it.”

Landry came out firing at the plate in the third inning with her second homer in the NCAA tournament after breaking her 2015 draught in LSU’s opener in the Baton Rouge NCAA Regional on May 15.

After freshman left fielder Emily Griggs reached on an error to lead off the frame, Landry smashed the first pitch she saw over the scoreboard in right field.

“They pitched me inside the at-bat previously, so I had a plan if it was inside – just swing the bat hard,” Landry said.

Although she isn’t known for her power hitting, Landry has made a habit of hitting homers when it matters the most.  All of her five career home runs have come during postseason play.

Landry credits her success at the plate to the plan laid out by LSU hitting coach Howard Dobson and, of course, her teammates.

“It’s fun,” Landry said. “Just sticking to a plan and having confidence in what I’m doing. My teammates are great. They back me up, and they set the table for me.”

In the Tigers’ decisive 10-5 victory in Game 2 on Sunday, Simmons took the reins at the plate by driving in half of LSU’s runs and finishing a double shy of a cycle.

From the first pitch, Simmons and the Tigers brought energy and determination to sweep the Wildcats and earn a trip to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2012.

“We came out with a different energy, and it was amazing,” Simmons said. “Everything was done through teammates, through positive energy, through encouragement and just being uplifting knowing that we were going to win this game today.”

After Landry reached on a bunt single and back-to-back walks loaded the bases, Simmons stepped up to the plate with two outs and put the Tigers on the board with a two-RBI single into shallow left field.

The Fountain Valley, California, native showed her power in the third inning by defying gusting winds with a two-run homer to right field.

“That’s never my mindset [to hit homers],” Simmons said. “I just go up there having quality at-bats and wanting to hit the ball hard.”

Simmons’ patience at the plate continued to produce runs for the Tigers with an RBI sacrifice fly in the fourth inning and a lead off triple in the seventh that set up two insurance runs. Simmons’ performance earned her the MVP of the Baton Rouge Super Regional.

“Coach Dobson [and Simmons] spend a lot of time working before practice, after practice, whatever she has to do to,” Torina said. “To see a player that puts in so much time succeed is fun for me as a coach.”

The Tigers will face No. 4 Auburn in the first round of the WCWS at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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