Louisiana State coach Beth Torina summed it up pretty well: “Looks like Hallie Wilson is my kryptonite, huh?”
If the Arizona leadoff hitter was the Tigers’ kryptonite on Sunday night at Hillenbrand Stadium, Shelby Babcock was the Wildcats’ Superman. Er, Wonder Woman?
Whichever, Arizona’s senior pitcher played the role of superhero for the Wildcats in the final game of the NCAA Tucson Regional, sending the team to a super regional with a 13-5 win over LSU in five innings.
When Kenzie Fowler went down with a season-ending thoracic outlet syndrome injury after Arizona’s penultimate series of the regular season, Babcock was thrust into the Wildcats’ No. 2 role almost by default.
But, Arizona coach Mike Candrea said, Babcock was “waiting for this opportunity,” and she did enough to lift the Wildcats into the next round.
Babcock was far from perfect — she allowed a pair of home runs and a two-RBI double — but she worked out of tough situations brilliantly and staved off an aggressive Tigers lineup.
Case in point: LSU had base runners on second and third with one out in the second inning, but Babcock got out of the jam with a strikeout and a pop fly.
“I’ve played with Shelby for three years now, I’ve seen her at her best and at her worst, and she had one of her best games tonight,” Wilson said. “She pitched from somewhere down deep.
“It’s an incredible feeling to know someone is pitching for a better cause.”
Back to the superheroes: Wilson and Co.
Wilson went 3 for 3 to continue her postseason tear, freshman Mo Mercado went 4 for 4 with four RBIs, including a mercy rule-inducing two-run homer in the fifth inning, and Courtney Rodriguez had two hits, an RBI and a run scored.
For all of Wilson’s heroics the last two days against LSU — 6 for 7, nine RBIs, three home runs, five runs, four walks … from the leadoff spot — Arizona’s lower-lineup production may have made the difference as Rodriguez and Chelsea Suitos had nine hits and 10 runs in the regional.
“I can remember years when we get past the No. 4 or No. 5 hitter and it’s, ‘Oh god, we have to wait until we get back to the top,’” Candrea said.
“In the postseason, the most important part of the lineup is the bottom. Bottom of your order goes down 1-2-3, you’re usually struggling.”
Ironically, it wasn’t the bottom of the Arizona lineup that languished in Sunday’s early game, a 5-1 loss to LSU that set up the nightcap — Rodriguez and Suitos combined for three hits and the rest of the Wildcats’ lineup had none.
Baylee Corbello held Arizona to one hit through five innings — though she dealt nine walks in the game — in handing the Wildcats just their third home loss of the year while setting the stage for the regional-deciding showdown that followed.
In the second game, however, Arizona chased LSU starter Kelsee Selman after seven batters as they already led 2-0 after a leadoff home run by Wilson and a Mercado RBI single before the Tigers turned it over to Corbello.
Rodriguez nailed Corbello’s fifth pitch for an RBI single, and the floodgates opened for the Wildcats, who scored multiple runs in every inning.
“They are a fantastic offense, one of the best we’ve seen,” Torina said. “We have some great offenses in the SEC, and I think our hope was to stick with them.
“We did for as long as we could, but we ran out of gas a little bit. To be able to do it multiple times, that’s tough.”
With the win, Arizona advances to the super regional to face the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns and star pitcher Christina Hamilton, who is 27-2 with a 1.53 ERA.
The offensive concerns, though, are secondary.
More important: Will the Wildcats get big performances from Estela Piñon and Babcock?
“Today, getting on the mound, I wasn’t going to walk off that field without a win,” Babcock said. “With my teammates behind me, the offense behind me, it was amazing. They had my back the entire time.”
Her teammates in the back, and the giant “S” on the front. Or is it a big W?
Either way, it was a big W.