By way of some two-out magic and a stellar performance in the circle, the No. 13 LSU softball team opened the home portion of its Southeastern Conference schedule with a decisive 7-1 victory over No. 17 Kentucky on Friday night at Tiger Park.
After being swept in a three-game series in Lexington, Ky., last season, LSU coach Beth Torina said it was vital to open the weekend with a statement against the visiting Wildcats.
The Tigers (21-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) certainly did.
“It was important that we showed an answer back for what happened last year,” Torina said. “It’s not something we’ve forgotten. We used that to fuel us all week.”
Senior pitcher Rachele Fico started in the circle and ran into trouble early when Kentucky drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the first inning, scoring senior shortstop Kara Dill. Fico recovered with a three-pitch strikeout, stranding three Wildcats and limiting the damage to one run.
After allowing one hit and two walks in the first inning, Fico shut down the Wildcats (19-5, 2-2) the rest of the way. The All-American struck out eight UK batters and retired 16 in a row down the stretch before a allowing a two-out walk in the seventh inning.
“It always feels good in a game when you find your defense is only on the field for a short time,” Fico said. “Every time you blink you feel like you’re in the dugout hitting again.”
Down one run early, the Tigers answered in the second inning, tying the contest on a two-out RBI double off the wall in right-center from junior Tammy Wray. The hit came one pitch after Wray hit a pop-up behind the plate that landed between three Wildcats.
Lauren Houston followed with a bloop single just over the third baseman, allowing Wray to score from second base and giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead through two innings.
The Tigers tacked on two runs in the third inning aided by three consecutive hit batters by Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Nunley. Then, on the ninth pitch of her at-bat, freshman Sandra Simmons hit a fly ball to deep left field, scoring senior Allison Falcon and freshman Bianka Bell.
“I was just trying to find my pitch,” Simmons said. “I kept getting junk pitches, and I knew just to spoil them and she would make a mistake.”
Wray followed with an 11-pitch walk before Houston lined into a double play after a 10-pitch at-bat, ending the inning with LSU leading 4-1 through three innings.
“That sets us up for the whole series, doing damage to somebody like that early in the series,” Torina said. “We’ve seen a lot of stuff from (Nunley). We’ve made her go deep into counts, and that will help us along the way.”
LSU padded its lead with three runs in the fifth inning, chasing Nunley and pushing its lead to 7-1. Kellsi Kloss started the inning with a base hit up the middle. Junior Alex Boulet came on to pinch-run for Kloss, stole second base two pitches later and advanced to third on a Simmons bunt single.
Wray came up next and dropped down a bunt with Boulet already racing home. Boulet scored and Wray made it to first with no throw on the play.
Wray, who’s known more for her power at the plate than anything else, said she wasn’t expecting to be asked to bunt but was confident in the call, especially with the speedy Boulet on third base.
Later in the inning, LSU sophomore A.J. Andrews hit a liner just inside the third base bag, scoring Wray and junior right fielder Simone Heyward to give the Tigers a 7-1 lead.
A six-run lead was more than enough for Fico (13-3), who surpassed the 700-career-strikeout mark with her first of two punchouts in the seventh inning.
LSU and Kentucky return to action at 4 p.m. Saturday for the second game of the series.