PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - With the score tied at 6-6 during the top of the seventh inning, Sandra Simmons belted a grand slam to clear the bases and vault the No. 11 LSU softball team to a 10-6 victory over BYU Thursday to open the Mary Nutter Classic held at the Big Leagues Dream Complex.
LSU (11-1) has won 11 of its first 12 games to equal the program's best start since the 2007 squad opened the season with an identical 11-1 record. The victory over BYU (4-7) also was the LSU's fourth win over a NCAA Regional and 40-win program from a season ago.
"The coolest part about today's game is that we were able to answer back every time after BYU scored," head coach Beth Torina said. "That was really exciting for us to be able to do that. It hasn't been a typical thing for our team to outslug someone. The fact that we gave up six runs is rare for our pitching staff, but we were able to score 10 runs. It shows that we are capable of winning in different ways. It makes me excited about this team."
Simmons turned in a 2-for-2 performance and reached on all four of her plate appearances. The four RBIs also were a career-high for the California native.
Jacee Blades opened the top of the frame with a leadoff infield single to deep shortstop. After an Allison Falcon ground out moved Blades into scoring position, Bianka Bell smacked a single to right field to put runners on the corners.
Tammy Wray kept the momentum going and drew a walk to fill the bases. Following a BYU pitching change, Simmons unleashed a towering shot to straight-away centerfield which broke the tie and gave LSU a 10-6 edge.
The long ball was LSU's third of the contest and 13th homer of the season which allowed the Tigers to match their season total from the 2012 campaign.
"I just had a clear mind at the plate," Simmons said. "I knew I was seeing their pitcher well the entire game. I thought she was going to come with something to try and get ahead right away. I was able to jump on it. We've definitely shown we can win in different ways. It's very exciting for me to be back home in California and represent LSU in front of my family for the first time. It's still all about doing anything I can to help our team get the win."
Rachele Fico slammed the door shut and struck out the side after giving up an infield single to begin the bottom of the seventh inning. For Fico, she improved to 7-0 on the season. Her four strikeouts enabled her to close within four Ks of eclipsing Dani Hofer (2006-09) for fourth place on LSU's all-time list.
"You have to give all the credit to our hitters today," Fico said. "They won the game for us. I personally need to do a better job when I come in for those relief situations. After Sandra's grand slam, we rode the momentum. I was able to settle down after that. I have to trust in myself a little more, that's what Coach (Torina) told me to do in between the sixth and seventh innings. It was a key for me to not try and do too much and let my mechanics do the work."
LSU fired out to a 2-0 advantage in the first inning. A.J. Andrews kicked things off with a leadoff single to right field. Two batters later, Allison Falcon cranked a two-run shot to left field for the game's first runs.
The Tigers dented the scoreboard in the first inning for the eighth time on the season and have outscored their opponents by a 21-0 margin.
BYU responded with a run during the home half of the frame. The Cougars took advantage of an LSU error attempting to turn an inning-ending double play at third base. The ball ricocheted off the glove of Bell covering the bag, and J.C. Clayton scooted home to make the score 2-1.
The two teams traded runs in the third inning. LSU made the most of another Andrews leadoff single, and she crossed the plate on a Bell RBI single through the middle.
BYU scored its tally on a Katie Manuma RBI single to right centerfield. With runners on second and third base, Meghan Patterson escaped the jam with a strikeout and a ground out to keep the score 3-2 in favor of LSU after three innings of play.
LSU broke through for three more runs during the fourth and fifth innings to extend its lead to 6-2. All three runs were provided with two outs courtesy of a Katie Guillory RBI single, and Tammy Wray's team-leading third dinger of the season, a two-run blast to right centerfield.
BYU charged back with a four-run frame in the sixth inning to even the ledger at 6-6. Megan Arnold connected for a two-run home run of her own which chased LSU starter Meghan Patterson from the game. Gordy Bravo provided the equalizer with a two-out, two-run double off Fico. However, Fico bounced back and kept the game tied by getting a fly out.
Patterson received the no-decision and recorded five strikeouts against zero walks in her five-plus innings of action. The junior right-hander was touched up for five runs, four earned, on nine hits.
"Meghan definitely missed some pitches location wise and was a little bit up in the zone," Torina said. "She made more mistakes than she's made in a while. At the same time, BYU is a quality offense. They are known for their offense and will make you pay when mistakes are made. I'm still confident in her, and I expect her to throw a nice performance the next time she takes the circle."'
LSU returns to action to take on Ohio State and UNLV on day two of the Mary Nutter Classic. Friday's first pitches are set for 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. CT from the Big Leagues Dreams Complex in Palm Springs.
Every LSU softball game will have live stats available inside the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net/live. Fans also can follow every pitch of LSU softball via live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsusoftball on Twitter.
LSU's next home game will be Wednesday, March 13 versus Nicholls State with a 6 p.m. first pitch. Tickets can be purchased online at www.LSUtix.net or on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12. Season tickets also are on-sale for $75 and additional ticket information is available at www.LSUtix.net.