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Two Columns for the Price of One

Another big weekend for the stick and ball sports for LSU. Softball deserves its own column, really, but I'll focus on them after the break. First, let's complain about the NCAA Selection Committee.

A right of passage each season is bitching about the field, but by and large, the Committee does a good job. I feel they've bent over to screw LSU the past two years, so it's nice that LSU got a pretty nice draw this year. Sure, I would rather be a higher seed and all that, but what matters most is your path to Omaha.

And if LSU doesn't make Omaha, they only have themselves to blame. Oregon State is a really good team, but they did finish tied for fourth in the Pac-12. However, I'm always wary of teams from mild climates coming to the deep south. There is nothing which can prepare you for Louisiana heat in June. It's a huge advantage, not to mention the edge travel takes from you.

Weather's not a decisive factor, but it's one of those things that makes it so tough on visiting teams in the Box. Of course, it ranks behind 10,000 drunk Louisianans crowded into the bleachers. And the pretty darn good team on the field. But LSU has one of the best homefield advantages in baseball, and the Committee didn't do something absurd like deny LSU a seed and match us up with Baylor.

The Committee's taking some heat for its treatment of Kentucky, and while the Cats certainly could have had a host regional, I don't see how it is some miscarriage of justice that they do not. UK lost three of their last four series, including a sweep on the final weekend, at home. Instead of winning the SEC, they finished third because of the slide. UK has no big out of conference wins, and even needed 10 innings to beat Indiana on the road.

Kentucky is #18 in the RPI, finished third in their conference, scheduled weakly out of conference, ended the season on a massive nose dive, and aren't a terribly good road team. I believe UK was good enough to host, but I also can't look at that profile and be terribly upset the Committee didn't give them a one-seed the first weekend. That's a bubble profile, and theirs burst.

Instead, they get sent to Gary, Indiana to face one of the weakest hosts in the field. Which reflects that UK was a borderline host, and they get a short road trip and a winnable first weekend. They didn't get screwed at all. Not even close.

We complain about the committee, but we are complaining on the margins. Once again, they largely get it right. It's a tough job and impossible to keep everyone happy - as long as their decisions are logical and defensible, we need to let it go. Let's go beat up our region.

On to softball after the jump.

Holy crap.

Really, what else can you say about that series other than that? LSU has a puncher's chance against anyone they play because of the Fico-Mack twosome on the mound, but Mizzou fired back with Chelsea Thomas.

My one complaint about softball as a sport is how one pitcher can completely carry a team. Unlike baseball, a softball pitcher can start all three games of a series, as Thomas proved. While Thomas was dominant in Game Two, the sheer stress of pitching 11 innings took its toll on her. Thomas never looked like the superhero we were promised, and that's just because Mizzou rode their horse until it broke down.

Torina, by contrast, was able to save her ace's arm just a tiny bit. Alternating starts between Fico and Mack has allowed LSU to always have a dominant pitcher on the mound, throwing at her best. Against A&M, Mack closed out her start, but against Mizzou, Fico had to come in for Game Three. Still, an obviously tired Thomas versus a completely fresh Fico is not an even fight. While Mack didn't close out the series winner this weekend, she was the key figure again. Her 12-inning marathon gave LSU the edge in the next start and honestly, if LSU can advance a runner with two on and no out, they win in the 7th.

LSU should have won Game Two in seven (and again in 10), but the loss wasn't a killer because the team still held a massive tactical edge in the rubber match. Depth won this series.

LSU overcame a stud pitcher, a raucous road crowd, and umpires who made some creative calls throughout the weekend. Hell, even the announcers worked against LSU. And LSU calmly took it to everyone. 12 innings in the heat? No problem. Let's play two. Wasted opportunities in Game Two? Well, let's not waste them in Game Three.

Beth Torina deserves all the credit for brilliantly and calmly guiding this unseeded team to the WCWS. Rarely does an unseeded team beat two seeded teams to make it to Oklahoma City. Softball is not a sport of parity.

However, she found a formula that is great for the postseason even if it means trouble during the regular season. LSU's fairly anemic offense relies on speed to create chances. This is a problem most of the time, but against good pitchers when home runs are rare, the small ball strategy works. LSU is used to playing 1-0 games, and they have two pitchers who can win 1-0 on any given night. The team walks the razor's edge, but they didn't get cut.

On to the Women's College World Series. All you need to win a title is a hot pitcher. Luckily, LSU has two.