The softball world was already in a state of turmoil. Earlier in the day, the Southeastern Conference had cancelled the upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and suspended all spring sport activities through the end of March. It was all in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus.
LSU’s softball team – 21-3 on the year and riding a six-game winning streak – already had practice scheduled for the afternoon, and the Tiger coaches had decided that the day would be a light-hearted one. “We felt like they were in a bit of a bad head space, so we wanted to keep it light, just have fun,” LSU head coach Beth Torina said.
While the Tigers were on the field, what once would have been unthinkable became official: The NCAA had cancelled all championships through the remainder of the school year, including the Women’s College World Series. A squad that had looked like one of Baton Rouge’s best in recent memory now had no national title to play for.
As heartbreaking as the news was, for Torina, that disappointment also had another level: Her players, on the field in front of her for their practice, had no idea what had been decided. For the veteran coach, the immediate decision was an easy one. “”We just kept on doing what we were doing,” Torina said, reflecting. “They looked so happy, and it would be hard to stop it. So we just let them enjoy the moment, one last chance for a sense of normalcy, let them have fun and dial down, then tell them at the end of practice.”
“I knew that it was going to be on social media immediately, as soon as they got to their phones, so I was glad that I had them right in front of me,” Torina added. “I was so glad that they got to hear it from me, not just read it on social media, and I was really glad that I got to be there with them, even though I had no words and no answers for them.”
For the Tigers’ coach, now in her ninth season leading the program, learning the news gave her a new perspective as she watched her team out on the field. “Honestly, I could barely stop crying,” Torina said. “I just kept watching. Not the outcome; I didn’t care what the outcome of any of this stuff was, but I kept watching the joy that they had within their sport and being together… we had set it up so that we were committed to letting them play, and there wasn’t a lot of coaching involved. So I really got to just sit back in the stands and just got to love seeing my team out there enjoying each other and enjoying softball.”
Heartbreaking as the day was for her Tigers, Torina also approached the happenings with a big-picture perspective. “”I think it’s a life lesson that they can take from this,” she said. “We tell them all the time that softball is just a game, but I think this is more of a reminder that it really is just a game, and there are a lot of things out there in the world that they have to worry about. I think the biggest thing is where we can find purpose in something that’s so devastating and try to spin it for good. That’s really all we’ve got.”
The SEC would go on to cancel the remainder of the conference season just days later, ending any possibility that the Tigers might return to the diamond during the 2019-20 academic year.
As her team parted during the period of still-unknown, many of them leaving campus for their homes in other states, Torina had one final surprise. At what became a season-ending pizza party, the team got to see a video project, created by video coordinator Matt Karin, that showed highlights and triumphs from their abbreviated season.
“I wanted to make sure that they understood that they played with a purpose this year and that they accomplished great things,” Torina said. “ So we got to show off some of the awesome things that happened.”