BATON ROUGE - The No. 23 LSU softball team rode Rachele Fico's right-arm to a masterful three-hit performance and garnered a 4-0 victory over Ole Miss Friday to open a SEC weekend series at Tiger Park.
The Tigers (31-14, 12-6 SEC) won their seventh straight contest versus Ole Miss (16-27, 3-17 SEC) and 20 of the 23 match-ups in Baton Rouge. LSU also posted their fourth consecutive shutout against the Rebels, a streak of 30.1 consecutive inning stretching back to the 2010 season.
Fico was touched up for a trio of singles and moved to 15-6 on the season. The junior right-hander racked up seven strikeouts against two walks as she pulled within 17 Ks of reaching 500 career strikeouts.
Ashley Langoni, Morgan Russell, Juliana Santos and Tammy Wray contributed RBIs to spark LSU's offense. The victory allowed the Tigers to secure a spot in May's SEC Tournament and move back into sole possession of fourth place in the overall SEC race after Alabama's 8-3 victory over Georgia.
"Every SEC win is a big win - I don't care who you're playing," head coach Beth Torina said. "Every time we can go out and find a way to get it done, I think, is important. Rachele had a really great performance for us tonight. I think she knew, for the team, she had to get us back on the positive. I don't think she did anything out of the ordinary - I think she's done that for us all year. I thought she threw great and did a very great job."
LSU manufactured the game's first run during the second inning. Santos drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second base on Allison Falcon's sacrifice hit. An Ashley Applegate ground out enabled Santos to move to third base. On a 2-2 offering, Wray chopped a RBI single through the middle to give the Tigers a 1-0 edge.
"Obviously, Ashley Langoni and Juliana Santos have been hitting consistent all season long so we have all the faith in the world in them when they step up to the plate," Wray said. "I feel like the bottom of the lineup has been drastically stepping up. We've been working on our confidence and just been going out there with a positive attitude."
Langoni and Santos drove home a pair of runs in the fifth inning to extend the LSU advantage to 3-0. Langoni notched her 39th walk of the season to break former All-American Ashlee Ducote's single-season record set during the 2000 season.
Fico started the game on-fire and fanned five of the first six batters she retired. She carried a no-hit bid two outs into the fifth inning before Cali Overbeck's single to right field.
Ole Miss' best opportunity to score came in the sixth inning. With runners on first and second base, Fico got out of trouble with a tremendous inning-ending 1-5-3 double play.
The Tigers tacked on another run during the home-half of the frame. Applegate collected a leadoff walk, and pinch runner Alex Boulet swiped her seventh stolen base of the season. Two batters later, Russell ripped a RBI single past a drawn-in Ole Miss infield to plate Boulet for the final margin of 4-0.
"I knew I had to start working harder," Fico said. "I knew I didn't have my best outing last weekend at Tennessee, and I knew I just really had to get back to my fundamentals in the bullpen. [I] just needed to bear down, focus on my mechanics and just get better. I have to be better for my team."
Ole Miss' Kendall Bruning was dealt the loss and fell to 12-14 for the season. She was tagged for four runs on five hits and tallied two strikeouts versus three walks.
Game two of the series is set for Saturday at 6 p.m. with live audio and live stats inside the Geaux Zone on LSUsports.net. The game also will be carried live Country Legends 104.9 FM in the Baton Rouge area with Patrick Wright and Kent Lowe set to call the action.
CST will televise the game with Lyn Rollins and Yvette Girouard serving as the broadcast team.
Fans also can follow every pitch of LSU softball this season via live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsu_softball on Twitter.
Saturday's contest marks the LSU's inaugural "Strikeout Ovarian Cancer" event. The Tigers will wear teal jerseys to celebrate survivors and spread awareness of ovarian cancer. Fans are encouraged to wear teal in support of the cause.
The first 500 fans will receive a "Strikeout Ovarian Cancer" teal t-shirt, and all fans entering the ball park will be given teal pom poms. Head coach Beth Torina's mother, Betty Dieter who is an ovarian cancer survivor, will throw-out one of the game's ceremonial first pitches.
The Tiger Park Ticket Booth will open 90 minutes prior to first pitch. Fans can purchase tickets on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12. Tickets also are available online at www.LSUtix.net.
As part of Brittany Mack's "Geaux Play" initiative, LSU softball is encouraging fans to share the gift of sports with special needs children. Fans can donate new or gently used sports equipment during the remaining LSU softball home games at Tiger Park. For more information, visit www.LSUsports.net/geauxplay.
All items collected will be given directly to the Miracle League Association and six local schools that Mack will visit during the season. At LSU's series finale versus Ole Miss on April 22, Mack will invite all the children to the game as her special VIP guests for "Geaux Play" day at Tiger Park.
The LSU Athletics Ticket Office continues to urge season ticket holders to be cautious when separating their bar-coded tickets. The barcode must be attached to the ticket when arriving at the gate for scanning purposes upon entrance to Tiger Park. If the barcode detaches, season ticket holders must stop by the LSU Athletics Ticket Office on the first floor of the Athletics/Administration Building for a reprint of their tickets.
Softball Postgame Quotes
No. 23 LSU vs. Ole Miss - April 20, 2012
Head Coach Beth Torina
On starting the series off with a win and regaining some momentum...
"Every SEC win is a big win - I don't care who you're playing. Every time we can go out and find a way to get it done, I think, is important."
On the balance of the hitting with four batters driving in runs...
"I think Tammy Wray did a really good job. She just seems to be having better and better at-bats all the time right now. She really seems to be building and getting stronger. I feel really confident when she's at the plate, and I thought it was really great that she drove in the first run."
On Rachele Fico's performance...
"She had a really great performance for us tonight. I think she knew, for the team, she had to get us back on the positive. I don't think she did anything out of the ordinary - I think she's done that for us all year. I thought she threw great and did a very great job. She's thrown a lot of good games this year."
On the next two games of the series...
"We're going to play to win all three games. I think we definitely need to do that and get ourselves back some confidence and momentum going into Florida and Georgia. We just need to keep building and building as we move on."
Third baseman Tammy Wray
On the bottom half of the order getting big hits and RBIs tonight...
"Obviously, Ashley Langoni and Juliana Santos have been hitting consistent all season long so we have all the faith in the world in them when they step up to the plate. I feel like the bottom of the lineup has been drastically stepping up. We've been working on our confidence and just been going out there with a positive attitude. We're trying our best to see the pitch out of the pitcher's hand and either turn on it or go with it. It's just been working really well for us right now."
On the importance of getting the win tonight following a string of losses...
"There's no doubt we've been struggling a little bit, so we've been trying to treat every team the same and go out and play our hardest. Obviously, we've been drastically working on our hitting. Practice, yesterday was awesome, and we went into tonight's game thinking we had to win. The goal was to go out there and just do our best."
On the next two games of the series...
"I have all the faith in the world in the team right now. I just feel like tomorrow and Sunday we're just going to come out same as we did today, do our best and hopefully win."
Pitcher Rachele Fico
On her mindset going into the game...
"We really just had to come out swinging hard today and playing good defense. On the mound, I just did my best, hit my spots and made batters chase because I want to keep my team in this. I don't want the other team to put runs up on the board at any point in the game and shift the momentum from us to them. That was the main goal for me today to just strike the other team out."
On whether she felt more responsibility tonight to get the win following the team's string of recent losses...
"I knew I had to start working harder. I knew I didn't have my best outing last weekend at Tennessee, and I knew I just really had to get back to my fundamentals in the bullpen. [I] just needed to bear down, focus on my mechanics and just get better. I have to be better for my team."
On her adjustments during the game...
"We made little adjustments throughout the game. I didn't want to bring the ball too much over the plate. I wanted to trust my pitch, keep it moving and not try and place them. We just tried to make it start more in and just make the ball move more with curveballs. It was effective in making people swing and ground out earlier in the game. The defense played well behind me."
On her use of the change-up tonight...
"It was working really good for us. We didn't use it often early in the game, and they started putting the ball in play so we started using it. I thought it was pretty effective. We just had to keep it down in the zone and make them chase."
On whether the team has turned around and regained some momentum...
"Winning tonight's game was definitely a step in the right direction. We need to continue what we're doing and come out fighting tomorrow."