Paced by a stellar performance in the circle and a hot bat at the plate, the No. 12 Missouri softball team handed No. 11 LSU its first series loss with a 3-2 victory Sunday at Tiger Park.
Chelsea Thomas (17-4) picked up her second win of the weekend for Missouri (26-7, 11-6 Southeastern Conference), two days after limiting LSU to one run and two hits in Missouri’s 6-1, series-opening victory.
“I thought we played a much better game than we played Friday,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “(Thomas) is a special pitcher, so she’s always going to be tough. The fact that we were able to get the two runs off of her, I thought was a good job by our offense today.”
Rachele Fico (22-9) turned in seven solid innings for LSU (37-11, 12-6). But she was done in by Missouri designated player Nicole Hudson, who homered twice and accounted for all of Missouri’s runs.
Fico allowed three runs on six hits while striking out five and allowing two walks, a performance the All-American said was an improvement over her outing Friday.
“I was working ahead in counts a lot more, trusting my pitches, and my defense played really well behind me,” Fico said. “There’s just two pitches that you wish you could take back, but when all is said and done, we only can learn from it and move on.”
LSU got on the board in the first inning when junior second baseman Allison Falcon singled through the right side to score freshman shortstop Bianka Bell from second base.
Thomas struck out freshman catcher Kellsi Kloss with two runners on base to end the inning, but LSU’s two hits in the inning were as many as Thomas gave up in Missouri’s series-opening victory Friday.
LSU put two more runners on in the second inning but couldn’t scratch across a run.
“Good pitchers are capable of making good pitches in big time situations,” Torina said. “(Thomas) stepped up and was able to get the timely out, where we weren’t able to get the timely hit.”
Hudson put Missouri on top in the third inning with an opposite-field, two-run homer, scoring second baseman Emily Crane.
Thomas did her part in the circle to hold the lead before Hudson again provided the spark for Missouri in the fifth inning with a drive off the top of the scoreboard in right field.
“It’s always hard to swallow when the same kid beats you twice,” Fico said. “I think in her second at-bat she definitely hit a good pitch. ... When someone’s good like that, you can’t take anything away from them.”
The blast was Hudson’s second in as many at bats and gave Missouri a 3-1 lead.
LSU trimmed the deficit in the bottom of the fifth inning on an RBI single from Bell, scoring sophomore center fielder A.J. Andrews from second base. Thomas induced a pair of pop-ups to get out of the inning and maintain Missouri’s 3-2 lead.
Thomas settled in from there and sat down LSU’s last eight batters, recording five of her 10 strikeouts in the final two innings.
“She definitely made adjustments when we made adjustments,” Bell said. “When we started swinging at the low pitch she started bringing it up in the zone. We just couldn’t adjust with her.”
With the loss, LSU falls into a tie atop the SEC West with Alabama, but with the Crimson Tide coming to Tiger Park for three games starting Thursday, Torina said LSU still controls its own destiny.
“We’re still in the driver’s seat,” Torina said. “We can still win the series against Alabama and be in a good spot in the SEC West. We have to be able to rebound this and really work and prepare for Alabama.”