By Morgan Prewitt
Just seconds after senior pinch hitter Kailey McCasland grounded out to end the eighth-ranked Tigers’ 2015 season in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series, freshman pitcher Carley Hoover turned her sights toward a national championship next season.
Despite equaling a program-best third finish in the Tigers’ fourth WCWS appearance, Hoover and company leave Oklahoma City disappointed, determined to achieve even more next season.
“This experience has been really cool,” Hoover said. “But my goal wasn’t to get here, my goal and our goal was to win it. And obviously we fell short. I think I learned a lot being here. It’s a really big stage. It was a whole lot.”
LSU’s mindset moving forward stems from its success throughout a record-breaking 2015 campaign, representing the growth of the program during LSU coach Beth Torina’s tenure.
When LSU earned a trip to the WCWS in Torina’s debut season in 2012, senior center fielder A.J. Andrews said the Tigers were just happy to be there and didn’t head into the tournament with any expectations.
In 2015, the Tigers came into season on a mission to win it all and awed the country with the best start in school history, 25-0.
LSU rolled into a matchup of undefeated against defending national champion Florida on March 13-15 in Gainesville, Florida. After dropping the first in Game 1 on a walk-off passed ball, junior catcher Kellsi Kloss spurred the Tigers to a 14-10 win in Game 2 on March 14 with a two-out grand slam in the top of the seventh to knot the series.
After taking their first series in Gainesville since 2005 with a 10-3 win in Game 3, the Tigers earned their first No. 1 ranking in program history the following week.
LSU held the No. 1 ranking for three weeks during the 2015 season, posting a 7-4 record as the nation’s top team.
Throughout the last month of the regular season, LSU battled inconsistency at the plate and in the circle but still earned the No. 5 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the Tigers showed their ability to fight through adversity throughout their run to the WCWS.
After destroying Texas Southern in its Baton Rouge Regional opener, LSU had to fight off elimination with a win against Nebraska on May 16 after dropping a 1-0 decision against Arizona State earlier that day.
The Tigers came out on Sunday and swept Arizona State in two games, including a 4-3 win in Game 2 via a walk-off single by junior shortstop Bianka Bell.
LSU dominated Arizona by outscoring the Wildcats, 18-5, in a two-game sweep in the first ever Baton Rouge Super Regional. In Game 1, the Tigers recorded its second run-rule victory during the NCAA tournament while Arizona fought back hard in Game 2.
At the WCWS, the Tigers earned a spot in the winner’s bracket with a 6-1 victory against Auburn on Thursday afternoon. But after a 4-0 loss to top-seeded Florida on Friday night, the Tigers found themselves once again a game way from elimination against Alabama on Saturday night.
After being pushed back to a 10:42 p.m. start time, LSU’s bats answered with a 5-3 victory to eliminate the Crimson Tide and advance to the WCWS semifinals against Michigan on Sunday.
Against Michigan on Sunday afternoon, the Tigers battled back-and-forth until the Wolverines tied it up at 3-3 and broke the game open with a three-run inning by taking advantage of defensive errors by LSU.
“I hope none of my players are hanging their heads today,” Torina said. “The sadness is not necessarily the way it ended or how it ended but the fact it had to end because it was so incredibly enjoyable. And as their coach, I enjoyed every single minute with them this year.”
During this historic season, the Tigers re-wrote the LSU record books.
Bell set the career homer record (44) and the single-season home run record with 18 this season while sophomore third baseman Sahvanna Jaquish broke LSU’s annual record for RBIs with 76.
Looking forward to the 2016 season, the Tigers will lose only one starter in senior centerfielder A.J. Andrews, while returning a program-record five NFCA All-Americans. Despite the unquestionable talent on LSU’s roster next season, Torina made it clear to her players that a return trip to Oklahoma City is never guaranteed.
“Having the core of your team playing in a game like this, being in this setting and being in this scenario I think is huge going down the road,” Torina said. “There’s no guarantees for the next season. But they definitely have all of the tools, talent, ability in order to put them back in this spot and continue to achieve even more than this.”