LSU's Rachele Fico
Photo by:Chris Parent, LSU Athletics Student Photographer
Softball Dumps No. 17 Kentucky in Opener, 7-1
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Published: March 15, 2013, 09:21 PM (CT)
Updated: March 15, 2013, 10:53 PM (CT)
by Matt Dunaway, Associate SID

BATON ROUGE - Rachele Fico continued her strong showing in SEC play and tossed a one-hitter fueled by nine strikeouts as the No. 13 LSU softball team registered a 7-1 victory over Kentucky Friday in the first game of three-game weekend set at Tiger Park.

LSU (21-5, 3-1 SEC) has won seven of its last nine outings and remained in sole possession of first place in the SEC Western Division standings. The Wildcats (19-5, 2-2 SEC) lost for only the second time over their last 13 outings going back to February 16.

In the process, the Tigers ended a three-game losing skid to Kentucky after being swept in Lexington to end the 2012 regular season. 

"It was very important that we showed and answered back for the sweep from last year," head coach Beth Torina said. "It's not something we forgot about, and we used that to fuel our team all week. It's something that we used and talked about."

For Fico, she became the fourth pitcher in program history to surpass 700 career strikeouts. She joins former All-Americans Britni Sneed, Kristin Schmidt and Emily Turner on the prestigious list.

The victory enabled Fico to improve to 13-3 on the season. She was touched up for one run on one hit and totaled nine strikeouts against four walks en route to her third consecutive win to open SEC action.

"I didn't even realize that I was approaching that mark," Fico said. "It's an incredible honor to be able to wear that LSU jersey across my chest. Then to be amongst such great company of the former players who have helped build this program is really something special. I'm really blessed to be apart of this program, to be on a team like this and to be surrounded by players who work so hard all the time."

LSU's offense pounded out 10 hits sparked by a 3-for-3 effort by Simone Heyward at the bottom of the lineup. The three hits for Heyward were a career-high. A.J. Andrews, Sandra Simmons and Tammy Wray collected two RBIs apiece for the Tigers.

"This is probably one of my favorite offensive performances of the year because the kids truly bought into what we were asking them to do," Torina said. "They made adjustments and scored runs in different ways. I was just very impressed with them. I think it sets us up for the entire series, doing damage to someone like that early in the series gives us confidence for games two and three.

Kentucky jumped out to a 1-0 edge during the first inning. The Wildcats made the most of three walks issued by Fico, which included a RBI by Nikki Sagerman on a free pass. With the bases full, Fico regrouped and got Krystal Smith to strike out looking to keep the score at 1-0.

LSU fired back with some two-out magic in the second inning. Simmons battled back from a 0-2 count to draw a walk and crossed the plate with the equalizer on a towering RBI double from Wray that bounced off the right field fence. Lauren Houston kept the rally going and deposited a RBI single to left field to give LSU a 2-1 lead.

Fico settled into a groove and sat down 19 of the last 21 UK batters she faced. The Connecticut native only surrendered a hit-batter and a walk. At one point, the senior right-hander retired 16 straight from the second to the seventh inning. Her milestone 700th career strikeout came to start the seventh. 

"It was good, but it wasn't her best day," Torina said. "She found a way to win, and I think in the first inning we didn't have some of the things that we thought we had. However, we were able to make adjustments from that point. She is just that good that she is able to win on her bad days. It's not that it was a bad day overall, but it just wasn't her best stuff."

"After the first inning, I had to settle down and stop giving up free passes," Fico said. "I just had to throw my game and trust my pitches a little bit more. I was being too careful in trying to spot things too much instead of just trusting my mechanics and throwing my game. After we got the first inning out of the way, I started feeling much better on the field. Our offense exploded for us. They've been swinging the bat so well, and they make my life so much easier."

The Tigers tacked on two more runs during the third inning. Allison Falcon, Bianka Bell and Kellsi Kloss loaded the bases after all three were hit-by-pitches. Simmons delivered a two-run double that landed over the head of UK left fielder Maisie Sneed to extend the LSU advantage to 4-1.

LSU added three more runs in the fourth inning. Kloss and Simmons connected singles, while pinch runner Alex Boulet stole a base in between to put runners on the corners. Wray kept the pressure on the Wildcats and executed a squeeze bunt to perfection to score Boulet.

Three batters later and after Heyward slapped her third single of the game, Andrews cleared the bases with a two-run double down the left field line for the final margin of 7-1.

"It is just all about readjusting and buying into the hitting plan," Wray said. "That is something that the coaches are always telling us. We trust the plan, we buy into the plan and eventually it will work. We don't try to hit both sides of the plate. We hit our strengths. Everybody has bought into that especially after we made the adjustment. That is when the momentum started going. It just worked out."

Game two of the series is set for Saturday at 4 p.m., and the game will be carried live by Cox Sports Television with Lyn Rollins and retired LSU softball coach Yvette Girouard set to call the action. The game also will be broadcasted by the LSU Sports Radio Network on Country Legends 104.9 FM in Baton Rouge and can be accessed by Geaux Zone subscribers at www.LSUsports.net/live.

Fans also can follow every pitch of LSU softball this season via live stats at www.LSUsports.net/livestats along with live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsusoftball on Twitter.

The Tiger Park Ticket Office will open 90 prior to the first pitch. Fans can purchase tickets on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12. LSU will celebrate Alumnae Day, and the first 500 fans also can pick up a commemorative lapel pin honoring the Tigers run to the 2012 Women's College World Series.

LSU Softball Postgame Quotes - March 15, 2013
No. 13 LSU vs. No. 17 Kentucky

HEAD COACH BETH TORINA

On opening SEC play at home on a strong note...
"It was very important that we showed and answered back for the sweep from last year. It's not something we forgot about, and we used that to fuel our team all week. It's something that we used and talked about. Hopefully, it is something that will continue through the weekend. We are trying to send a message.

On consistently rallying with two outs...
"This is probably one of my favorite offensive performances of the year because the kids truly bought into what we were asking them to do. They made adjustments and scored runs in different ways. I was just very impressed with them, and it was one of my favorite offensive performances."

On the squeeze bunt in the fifth inning...
"I just thought Kentucky had some bad luck with changing infielders, and there was an opportunity there for us to capitalize on. (Alex) Boulet can make anything happen for us on the bases. If we don't get the bunt down for some reason, I was confident that she could find a way to scramble back to the bag."

On the offensive mindset ...
"I think it sets us up for the entire series, doing damage to someone like that early in the series gives us confidence for games two and three. We've seen a lot of pitcher from (Kelsey) Nunley, and we made her go deep in counts which will help us in the long run. This was one of my favorite offensive moments from our team. They did so many good things, and I was very impressed with their ability to battle."

On Simone Heyward's performance...
"She got one of the Player of the Game awards from the coaches because she was just fantastic. She has worked hard all week and been in the batting cage constantly. Every time I turned around this week, she has been there. She deserved that type of performance and really earned it tonight."

On Rachele Fico's performance...
"It was good, but it wasn't her best day. She found a way to win, and I think in the first inning we didn't have some of the things that we thought we had. However, we were able to make adjustments from that point. She is just that good that she is able to win on her bad days. It's not that it was a bad day overall, but it just wasn't her best stuff. We had to make a few adjustments and win with what she had.

PITCHER RACHELE FICO

On finding her rhythm after the first inning...
"It always feels good in a game when you find that your team is only on defense for a short time, and every time you blink you are in the dugout hitting again. It's always an awesome feeling, and everyone gets in a rhythm. I think it keeps the momentum going our way and keeps our hitters upbeat. It's always a nice feeling retiring the three batters in an inning and keeping people off base will definitely prevent runs from scoring. After the first inning, I had to settle down and stop giving up free passes. I just had to throw my game and trust my pitches a little bit more. I was being too careful in trying to spot things too much instead of just trusting my mechanics and throwing my game. After we got the first inning out of the way, I started feeling much better on the field. Our offense exploded for us. They've been swinging the bat so well, and they make my life so much easier."

On the importance of bouncing back from last season's Kentucky series ...
"Anytime you get swept, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. It's not something you forget about. It's something that has stayed with me throughout the year, and I don't want it to happen again. I don't want to get swept in my senior season because I don't have another chance to go back at them. It was huge for Coach Torina and our team. We need to keep swinging the bats the way we are and good things will happen for us. Everyone has been working really hard with staying in their hitting plans, and we've been really successful. If we keep executing these things, we are going to be really tough to beat."

On achieving the 700 career strikeouts ...
"I didn't even realize that I was approaching that mark. It's an incredible honor to be able to wear that LSU jersey across my chest. Then to be amongst such great company of the former players who have helped build this program is really something special. I'm really blessed to be apart of this program, to be on a team like this and to be surrounded by players who work so hard all the time."

1B SANDRA SIMMONS

On giving LSU momentum with a two-out walk in the second inning ...
"I knew after I swung at that first change up, that was not what our hitting plan was tonight. I had to come back, and I wanted to show the coaches that we were going to buy into that hitting plan. Keying into that and refocusing allowed me to get us some momentum with that two out walk."

On making UK's starting pitcher Kelsey Nunley work for her outs ...
"I was just trying to find my pitch. I was battling until I got the right pitch. I kept getting a couple junk pitches, but I knew to spoil them. Eventually, she would make a mistake."

On having a variety of offensive weapons ...
"Being a power hitter and also being able to bunt helps me because I am able to mix it up at the plate. The corner infielders get confused on where to play. I know for me as a corner infielder, you kind of want to play back, but you also have to respect the power. I hadn't shown them yet my ability to bunt so they didn't know of it.

On the win over Kentucky ...
"To start off this weekend series with a win is very good. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum. Our team came out ready tonight. We knew we couldn't have another game where (Rachele) Fico had to throw 14 innings like last Friday. We had something to prove, and we wanted to make our statement as an offense tonight."

On keeping the momentum for Saturday's game...
"We need to stay up, keep the momentum and keep the energy up in our dugout. We bought into the coaches hitting plan well tonight, and we need to do that again tomorrow"

3B TAMMY WRAY

On LSU's offensive performance tonight...
"Coming into the game, we remember that they swept us last year. We knew that coming out the first night of the series we had to prove something to them. We looked over some video, had an original hitting plan but unfortunately the plan didn't work. After the first five batters went down and after Sanda (Simmons) walked, Coach (Howard) Dobson told us to toe up and change something. Obviously, the hitting plan wasn't working so do something different at the plate. Fortunately, I crushed a double, and it felt good. We just rode from that."

On making offensive adjustments in-game ...
"It is just all about readjusting and buying into the hitting plan. That is something that the coaches are always telling us. We trust the plan, we buy into the plan and eventually it will work. We don't try to hit both sides of the plate. We hit our strengths. Everybody has bought into that especially after we made the adjustment. That is when the momentum started going. It just worked out."

On extending innings and putting pressure on the opponent...
"We try our hardest on what we call pass the bat. We try to be selfless and try our hardest to get the person on-deck up to bat. Recently, we have been doing a really good job of that. We have been laying down bunts when necessary, stealing, and just getting those necessary timely hits. We aren't trying to push for anything extra. We aren't trying to hit home runs all the time and swing out of our shoes. We just need to continue to do the little things.

On expecting the squeeze bunt call in the fifth inning...
"No, I was definitely not expecting that. That is something we work on all the time. We bunt off our pitchers. When Coach (Torina) gave me the call, I had to take a deep breath because I am pretty sure I have never done a squeeze before in a college game. I just had to trust myself. Obviously with (Alex) Boulet's speed, I knew if I could lay it down she would be safe. That was all I was thinking about."

 

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