BATON ROUGE- The third-ranked LSU Tigers (21-3) used a strong night from its veteran leaders to push past Auburn, Arizona State and George Washington and advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships Friday night inside the Maravich Center.
The Tigers scored a 197.200 to finish first in the second session of the second round of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional. No. 13 Auburn also advanced out of the evening session with a team score of 197.075.
No. 6 Utah (196.800) and No. 11 Minnesota (196.300) also advanced to the regional final, which will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday in the PMAC. The top two teams from the final will advance to the NCAA Gymnastics Championships April 19-20 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Senior Sarah Finnegan highlighted the event as the regional champion on beam. The score of 9.925 extend her all-time record mark of individual titles in the event to 26. The beam title also pushed her wins this season to 43, which moved her closer to the all-time record set by Sandra Smith and Susan Jackson with 45.
Senior McKenna Kelley also captured the regional floor title as the anchor of the event with a 9.925. Junior Kennedi Edney tallied an all-around score of 39.475 to place her second overall.
Finnegan and Edney continue to flourish in key spots as both gymnasts recorded a 9.90 on the uneven bars. Beginning her evening with a 9.85 was sophomore Sami Durante in the first spot. Equaling Durante with a 9.85 of own was freshman Bailey Ferrer. Rounding out the uneven bars portion for the purple and gold was Bridget Dean who scored a 9.825. The score of 49.325 pushed the Tigers' total to 98.575 to just stay ahead of Auburn.
Kelley sent the Tiger faithful home happy, tallying a 9.925 to anchor LSU to a victory. The title for Kelley on the floor gives her five for her career.
The Tigers posted a 197.075, the highest NCAA Regional score in program history, to finish second in the night session of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional and advance to Saturday's Regional Final where they will be part of the first Sweet 16 in college gymnastics history.
"We've been preparing for this night," sophomore Drew Watson said. "This is where we're supposed to peak. This is where we shine. It's postseason. This is the time. And I think we did an awesome job the first night."
"This is what we've been waiting for," added Auburn head coach Jeff Graba. "I think we had a little lull at the end of the season and I think the girls were getting ahead of themselves mentally and emotionally, but it was nice to see them pull it together tonight. This is the team we thought we were the whole last month of the year. And we're back to who we are. We're doing it for each other. We're building on each other's routines. It's a heck of a score."
Auburn was solid on all four events, but vault and bars led the way as the team earned a 49.350 on each event. It was a season-high score on vault, and freshman Derrian Gobourne also won the individual title on the event with a career-high 9.950.