ATHENS, Ga. – Bianka Bell and Simone Heyward posted a pair of three-hit efforts to equal career-highs, but the No. 8 LSU softball team was unable to overcome an eight-run third inning as Georgia claimed a 10-7 decision to open the final weekend of the regular season Friday at Jack Turner Stadium.
The Tigers (40-12, 15-7 SEC) nearly erased a seven-run deficit and sent the tying run to the plate during the sixth inning. Georgia (36-18, 13-9 SEC) has won eight of its last nine meetings with LSU dating back to the 2009 season.
A.J. Andrews turned in a 2-for-3 performance highlighted by a three-run homer, while Sandra Simmons added a 2-for-4 effort and a RBI for the Tigers. In the circle, Meghan Patterson turned in a strong relief outing and allowed two runs on four hits over 3.2 innings. She tallied one strikeout against one walk.
The Bulldogs were led by Paige Wilson’s two solo home runs, Christine Olney’s three-run double and Niaja Griffin’s two-run triple. UGA also received RBIs from Tina Iosefa, Kaylee Puailoa and Anna Swafford.
“I was proud of our offensive effort,” head coach Beth Torina said. “They were fantastic and fought back after their big inning. I thought that took a lot of heart and guts from our offense. It’s nice seeing the slappers and the middle of the lineup continuing to do so well. Meghan came in under difficult circumstances and gave us a great effort. She did what we needed her to do. She fought hard for us and threw some great pitches.”
LSU grabbed a 2-0 advantage during the first inning. Andrews coaxed a leadoff walk and advanced to second base on a passed ball. Two batters later, Bell blasted her team-leading 12th home run of the season over the left centerfield wall.
The Bulldogs cut the LSU lead down to 2-1 as Wilson connected for a solo shot of her own in the home half of the inning.
UGA put together an eight-run frame and grabbed a 9-2 advantage in the third inning. The Bulldogs filled the bases and got the equalizer after Iosefa was plunked. Puailoa followed with a RBI single through the middle to give Georgia a 3-2 edge.
The Bulldogs cleared the bases and pushed their lead to 6-2 on a three-run double courtesy of Olney into the right centerfield gap. Two batters later, Griffin tacked on a two-run triple and Swafford capped the eight-run inning with a RBI groundout to make it 9-2.
LSU chipped away at the deficit and pulled back to 9-3 during the fourth inning. Lauren Houston opened the stanza by getting hit-by-a-pitch. After a Heyward double moved Houston into scoring position, she crossed the plate on a Jacee Blades infield single.
The Tigers continued to rally with a four-run sixth inning. Tammy Wray reached on a UGA fielding error, and Heyward added a bunt single to set the table for Andrews, who cranked a three-run bomb on a 1-1 offering to draw LSU to within 9-6.
Bell slapped her third hit of the contest, a single through the middle. She scampered home on Simmons’ RBI triple that appeared to clear the left centerfield wall and bounce back into the field of play. With the tying run at the plate, Kellsi Kloss hit a hard ground ball to second base for the third out of the inning.
Wilson cranked her second dinger of the game over the scoreboard in left field with one out in the seventh inning for the final margin of 10-7.
Rachele Fico, the reigning NFCA National Player of the Week, was issued the loss and dropped to 24-10 on the season. The senior right-hander was tagged for eight runs on five hits. She tacked on three strikeouts versus three walks. The three Ks enabled Fico to eclipse fellow All-American Emily Turner for third place on the program’s all-time list.
UGA’s Chelsea Wilkinson picked up the victory to improve her season’s ledger to 7-4. She tossed 5.1 innings and gave up six runs, five earned, on nine hits. She totaled two strikeouts against three walks. The Bulldogs turned to Morgan Montemayor for the final five outs. She notched her second save sparked by two Ks and surrendered an unearned run on two hits.
“Rachele didn’t have very good location,” Torina said. “When doesn’t have that, she’s typically not very successful on the mound. We have to make a few adjustments with our pitching staff and figure out a way to get their hitters out. We can still be successful in this series if we get the pitching we’re capable of to get with the great offense and defense we played tonight.”
Game two of the series is slated for Saturday at 12 p.m. CDT, and the game will be carried live by Cox Sports Television/Comcast Sports Southeast with Melissa Lee and Barbara Jordan 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. Patrick Wright and Matt Dunaway will have the radio call.
Fans 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.