Unlike the last time Rachele Fico coached against her alma mater, she won’t be experiencing a grand homecoming.
Instead, her alma mater is coming to her.
The former All-American right-hander, now the Georgia softball team’s pitching coach, will face her old team for the second straight year when No. 8 LSU visits Jack Turner Stadium in Athens, Georgia, for a weekend series beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.
When Fico visited Tiger Park last season as a member of South Alabama’s coaching staff, she received a standing ovation, and LSU unfurled a banner honoring her career that still hangs in the stadium.
Fico said competing against her alma mater will still stir up some emotions.
“The location doesn’t so much play into it,” Fico said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s always great to essentially go home for me because Tiger Park is like a second home. But I’m just happy to be able to see everyone that I spent such a significant part of my time in college with.”
The Oxford, Connecticut, native won 20 or more games in three of her four seasons at LSU, posting a 1.75 career ERA with 797 strikeouts from 2010-13. After her stellar college career, the Akron Racers selected her No. 1 overall in the 2013 National Pro Fastpitch Draft.
The only current Tigers that Fico played alongside are the team’s seniors, who remember her competitiveness above anything else.
“She was always in the bullpen, always wanting and willing to get better. She was never settling,” first baseman Sandra Simmons said. “She could pitch a perfect game and it still wasn’t perfect for her. She always had that eager side of her, wanting to do more for the team.”
Fico spent an additional year with the Tigers as a student coach in 2014 before joining South Alabama’s staff the next season. She now oversees the No. 10 Bulldogs’ pitching staff, which ranks 15th nationally with a 2.11 ERA, and has not decided whether she’ll rejoin the Racers this summer.
LSU coach Beth Torina, who mentored Fico in her final two seasons, said facing her former standout pitcher will be “interesting.” Simmons suggested Fico’s familiarity with the LSU upperclassmen might give her an edge when calling pitches.
But Fico downplayed the supposed advantage.
“Knowledge is power, but there’s not any trade secrets that I know. ... They’ve all developed as players since my time there” she said. “And during my time there, I wasn’t trying to figure out how to beat them, either. It’s a totally different perspective on things.”
Fico is excited to reunite with members of the LSU program, people she said are “like family” to her. But she knows she still has a job to do during this weekend’s top-10 SEC showdown.
“When it comes to gametime, it’s all business. When you step between the lines, you’ve got to get to work,” Fico said. “Then when the game’s over, I get to reconnect with everyone, and that part is always really special.”
Simmons ‘good to go’
Though Simmons said she has been medically cleared to play this weekend, she doesn’t remember much about her injury.
Junior second baseman Constance Quinn charged and scooped a grounder in LSU’s 6-2 loss to Florida last Saturday, hurriedly flinging to ball to first base in hopes of making a crucial out.
But the errant throw pulled Simmons off the bag and right in front of Florida sophomore Nicole DeWitt, whose knee slammed into the back of Simmons’ head as she ran down the baseline.
“It was a bang-bang play, nothing intentional,” Simmons said. “The ball just kind of took me to that side and into the runner.”
After trainers gave her a lengthy examination, the senior slowly walked off the field in the final inning of the game. Simmons was able to shake hands after the contest and has continued her quick recovery since then.
“I’m good to go,” she said with a smile.
With two wins against Georgia, Torina will earn her 200th win as the Tigers’ coach. ... LSU’s series opener against No. 14 Kentucky on April 9 has been moved up to 2 p.m. and will now air on ESPN. The contest was originally scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.