BATON ROUGE - In a pitcher's duel for the ages which featured 440 combined pitches and turned into the longest game in program history, the No. 23 LSU softball team lost a 1-0 decision to No. 12 Georgia during a 15-inning contest to open a SEC weekend series Friday in-front of 1,489 fans at Tiger Park.
Rachele Fico turned in a masterful performance and registered a season's best 13 strikeouts. The junior right-hander was touched up for eight hits and stranded 16 Georgia base runners. She was dealt another tough-luck loss and dropped to 15-9 on the season. In Fico's nine setbacks, she has received only four total runs of support.
Erin Arevalo countered for Georgia with a career-high 15 strikeouts and improved to 20-5 for the season. She limited LSU's offense to one hit, a Morgan Russell double in the 11th inning, to go along with four walks. The senior right-hander carried a no-hitter one out into the 11th inning and sat down 20 of the final 21 batters she faced.
With the result, LSU (33-17, 14-9 SEC) and Georgia (37-12, 14-9 SEC) are now tied for fourth place in the SEC overall race. It also allowed Alabama to secure the SEC Western Division title.
"Both pitchers were absolutely phenomenal tonight," head coach Beth Torina said. "Absolutely the best pitching performances I've ever seen in my entire career. I think the two of them battling like that, it was absolutely unbelievable. It was an unbelievable game - unfortunately for us, we didn't come up on the winning end. Both teams really played their hearts out tonight."
Georgia broke through for the game's only run as Kristyn Sandberg drew a leadoff walk and moved to second base on Ashley Razey's groundout. On a chopped ball back to the pitcher's circle, Fico fielded and threw to first baseman Ashleigh Kuhn. However, Kuhn couldn't hold the throw as a speedy Niaja Griffin knocked the ball out her glove which allowed Sandberg to cross the plate from second base.
LSU's best opportunity to score came during the ninth inning when Heidi Pizer and A.J. Andrews connected for consecutive walks to open the frame. Pinch runner Alex Boulet and Andrews executed a double steal. Sandberg's throw from the catcher position went into left field, but Griffin back up the play to keep the runners at second and third base.
Two batters later, Ashley Langoni's squeeze bunt attempt was thwarted by a diving Sandberg catch in foul territory. On the throw back to the pitcher, Boulet scampered home but was ruled out for leaving the bag as Arevalo had already returned to the pitcher's circle.
"I think if we get the bunt down, we're in a totally different scenario there - I think we possibly could've scored," Torina said. "But the squeeze is a tough play, and there's always a lot of pressure. I don't know if the pitch was a strike, but still it's such a tough play to execute."
Georgia had a chance to break through in the seventh inning after placing runners on second and third base with no outs. Christine Olney's ground ball was scooped up by LSU shortstop Juliana Santos on one bounce. She alertly fired home for the first out of the frame. Fico dug deep and recorded strikeouts sandwiched between a walk to leave the bases loaded.
"I was just taking it one pitch at a time," Fico said. "I wanted to make my next pitch my best pitch. I was just working to keep batters off balance, change planes and change up the side of the plate I was working. It was just a hard-fought game today - we gave it all we could."
Game two of the series is set for Saturday at 4 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.
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.
The first 1,000 fans to Saturday's game will receive a LSU softball lapel pin. The Tigers also will hold a special "Family Day" ceremony leading into the game.
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
LSU vs. Georgia - April 27, 2012
Head Coach Beth Torina
On Rachele Fico's performance...
"I really can't say enough about Rachele Fico. She deserves to win so many games, and we're just trying to find a way to get her run support because it seems she deserves to win every time she walks on the field right now."
On LSU's unsuccessful squeeze play in the ninth inning...
"I think if we get the bunt down, we're in a totally different scenario there - I think we possibly could've scored. But the squeeze is a tough play, and there's always a lot of pressure. I don't know if the pitch was a strike, but still it's such a tough play to execute."
On both pitchers' performances...
"Both pitchers were absolutely phenomenal tonight. Absolutely the best pitching performances I've ever seen in my entire career. I think the two of them battling like that, it was absolutely unbelievable. It was an unbelievable game - unfortunately for us, we didn't come up on the winning end. Both teams really played their hearts out tonight."
On what needs to be done to have the team ready for the game tomorrow...
"I think you're definitely going to see different pitchers after all the pitches that we saw tonight. We'll have a different offensive plan, and hopefully we'll have a better offensive output."
On LSU's defense...
"They did a great job of playing defense. When you're pitching well, it's a lot easier to play behind that. Balls aren't hit as hard or as well so give some credit to Rachele [Fico]. They definitely made some great defensive plays - Allison Falcon was good, Juliana Santos was good. They did a lot of really good things. It was overall such a great game. If you love great pitching, it was definitely a great game to watch."
Pitcher Rachele Fico
On the emotion of the game ...
"It was a long game - we fought hard. We gave it our all, and we left everything we had out there on the field. Tomorrow is a new day, and we still have two games left in the series. We just need to put this behind us and be better tomorrow."
On her performance tonight and how she got out of numerous jams...
"I was just taking it one pitch at a time. I wanted to make my next pitch my best pitch. I was just working to keep batters off balance, change planes and change up the side of the plate I was working. It was just a hard-fought game today - we gave it all we could."
On LSU's defense ...
"We had some spectacular defensive plays tonight. Tammy Wray came up big with her diving play at third base, and Allison Falcon made a great play to get us out of that last inning. Even Juliana [Santos] came up big and threw the girl out at home in the seventh inning. We just need to keep playing defense like that. We're on a roll right now so we just need to put this loss behind us, come back and be better tomorrow."