ORLANDO, Fla. - The No. 11 LSU softball team collected two victories over Big 10 opponents, a 6-5 win over Penn State followed by a 14-6 triumph over No. 14 Michigan, on day two of the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic Saturday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
LSU (17-3) has emerged with wins in 17 of its first 20 games, the program's best start through 20 games since the 2007 Tigers posted a 19-1 mark.
The win over Michigan was the program's second all-time versus the Wolverines in seven meetings and first since a 3-2 victory in 13 innings at the 2004 Women's College World Series.
"It was a great performance, and a big win for us against a quality opponent like Michigan," head coach Beth Torina said. "I was excited to see our offense come out, be so aggressive and do that type of damage. Our players were very selfless. They swung big, swung hard and also did their jobs of taking their walks and moving their runners when those opportunities presented themselves."
The 14 runs and 17 hits for LSU's offense were season-highs. Eight players contributed to the 17-hit barrage, the most for the Tigers since they posted 18 hits at Arkansas on April 21, 2007.
Six players notched multi-hit performances for the Tigers fueled by A.J. Andrews' 4-for-4 effort with two runs scored and a RBI from the top of the lineup. The four hits for Andrews was a career-high. Allison Falcon added a 3-for-3 performance and two RBIs.
Rikki Alcaraz and Kellsi Kloss connected for home runs highlighted by Kloss' seventh inning grand slam to give her a career-best six RBIs. Kloss' six RBIs were the most by a LSU player since Vanessa Soto tallied six RBIs versus Centenary on February 10, 2007.
"I thought we were relaxed as a unit after Coach (Torina) challenged us after the Penn State game," Kloss said. "We knew we were struggling a little bit because we were being passive. That's not who we are as players. Our goal was to be aggressive especially early in the count. I thought we did a good job of sticking with that plan for the entire game."
Down 2-0 in the top of the third inning, LSU rallied for six runs and sent 12 batters to the plate. Simone Heyward was hit-by-pitch, and Andrews cranked a double into the left centerfield gap to put the tying runs into scoring position.
Jacee Blades chopped a RBI single that stayed on the infield followed by Falcon's execution of a squeeze bunt to even the tally at 2-2. The Tigers surged ahead 4-2 after Bianka Bell and Tammy Wray pieced together consecutive RBI singles. Three batters later, Kloss smashed a two-run single through the middle to complete the 6-run outburst and make it 6-2.
"As soon as we were able to get a couple of hits, it sets the tone immediately," Kloss said. "We're very explosive and passing the bat has been our motto. Once that bat keeps getting passed and those hits come in bunches, we gain our confidence. That's really who we are and who we've been this season."
LSU tacked on two more runs during the fifth inning. With one out, Heyward walked and stole second base. Andrews slapped a RBI single to centerfield to extend the lead to 7-2. She moved up to second base after Blades' sacrifice bunt, and Falcon belted her team-leading seventh double into the right centerfield gap to push the LSU advantage to 8-2.
"The big story continues to be the slappers for us in the lineup," Torina said. "A.J., Jacee and Simone are such table setters for us. The three of them have been fantastic for us in every aspect, and are the reason we have been able to score so many runs."
After a Wray single to start the sixth inning, Alcaraz crushed a two-run dinger to right field to give the Tigers a 10-2 lead. For Alcaraz, it was her first career homer.
Michigan extended the game and fought back with four runs in the home half of the frame. The Wolverines received RBIs from Sierra Romero, Sara Driesenga and Caitlin Blanchard along with a passed ball to pull back to 10-6.
With runners on second and third base, Rachele Fico dug deep and struck out the side to keep the LSU up by a four-run spread. She tossed a complete game sparked by 10 strikeouts and improved to 10-2 on the season.
"Rachele didn't have her best stuff, but she gutted it out," Torina said. "That's the sign of a great pitcher to fight through it and find a way to win. The key for her was she kept focusing on what was working for her instead of what wasn't."
The Tigers added four insurance runs during the seventh inning. Falcon ripped a single off the glove of Michigan's third baseman followed by Alcaraz and Dylan Supak walks to fill the bases. On a 2-2 offering, Kloss lined a grand slam over the left field fence for the final margin of 14-6.
"We showed we had a lot of fight through a full seven innings," Torina said. "We were able to score runs throughout and not be content with what we had. Kellsi stepped up when we needed her to and provided a big answer for us after they scored those runs in the sixth inning."
Michigan grabbed a 2-0 edge after two innings of play. The Wolverines made the most of a Sierra Lawrence leadoff walk. She advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt, stole third base and crossed the plate with the game's first run when Kloss attempted throw bounced off her into the U-M dugout. Amy Knapp coaxed a walk and scored on Lyndsay Doyle's RBI triple.
Game 1 - No. 11 LSU 6, Penn State 5
The Tigers jumped out a 2-0 edge during the first inning. It marked the 10th time on the season that LSU has dented the scoreboard with a first-inning run.
Andrews reached on a Penn State fielding error by the second baseman and moved to second base on a Blades infield single. Falcon followed with another infield single on a slow roller to the second base. A PSU throwing error enabled Andrews to cross the plate for the game's first run. Two batters later, Blades scored on a Rikki Alcaraz RBI groundout.
The Nittany Lions got back to within 2-1 in the third inning as Cassidy Bell connected for a home run to straight-away centerfield.
LSU responded with a pair of runs during the home half of the frame. With one out, Blades legged out an infield single in-front of the pitcher's circle. The Tigers capitalized on Penn State's third error of the contest, a throwing miscue by the pitcher which allowed Blades to score. Bianka Bell tacked on a RBI groundout to plate Falcon and pushed the LSU advantage to 4-1.
The Tigers tacked on two more runs in the fourth inning courtesy of Andrews and Falcon RBI singles to make it 6-1.
Penn State loaded the bases to start the fifth inning. Bell knocked her second homer of the game, a grand slam to right centerfield, to trim the LSU lead down to 6-5.
The Nittany Lions put two runners on-base during the seventh inning. Ashley Czechner locked up the one-run victory with a strikeout and won her fourth straight decision.
LSU finishes the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic Sunday versus No. 15 Louisville with first pitch at 10:15 a.m. CT. The game will have an audio webcast available for Geaux Zone subscribers at LSUsports.net/live.
Every LSU softball game will have live stats available at www.LSUsports.net/livestats. 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.