BATON ROUGE - Rachele Fico racked up a season-high 11 strikeouts en route to her ninth shutout of the season as the LSU softball team secured a 1-0 walk-off victory over Arkansas Friday in-front of a season's best 1,389 fans at Tiger Park.
LSU (25-8, 8-1 SEC) pushed its winning streak to season's long nine consecutive games and has won 14 of the last 15 meetings versus Arkansas (18-14, 2-10 SEC). The Tigers also set a new program record by posting their fifth consecutive SEC shutout. The previous mark was four straight SEC shutouts on five different occasions, the latest coming during the 2011 season.
"It was huge getting the win tonight against Arkansas," Fico said. "They've beaten some quality teams this year, so you just have to respect an opponent like that. We had to just keep fighting throughout the game. We had a couple of hits throughout the game. We just had to piece them together. We were finally able to do that in the seventh inning, and we came up really big."
The 11 strikeouts for Fico enabled her to vault past Ashley Lewis (1999-2001) for sole possession of seventh place on LSU's all-time list. The junior right-hander was touched up for trio of singles and didn't allow an Arkansas runner to reach third base. With the victory, Fico moved to 12-4 on the season.
LSU broke through for the game's only run during the seventh inning. Pinch hitter Simone Heyward drew a leadoff walk, while A.J. Andrews and Jacee Blades followed with bunt singles. A throwing error by Arkansas third baseman Chloe Oprzedek on Blades' hit allowed Heyward to scoot home for the win.
"That [the Heyward walk] was a key," head coach Beth Torina said. "It's so nice to have so many options like that on our bench. It's so nice that she's able to come in and have a quality at-bat like that. It shows how focused she was throughout the seven innings."
The top six hitters in the LSU lineup all produced hits highlighted by Andrews' 2-for-4 performance. It was her fifth multi-hit effort in her last 11 games. Ashley Langoni notched a double and coaxed a pair of walks, while Allison Falcon ripped her first triple of the season.
The Razorbacks' Chelsea Cohen was tagged with the tough-luck loss and fell to 11-10 on the season. She notched two strikeouts against three walks.
"We definitely need to have a better plan with [Chelsea] Cohen," Torina said. "We don't know what our adjustments will be, but we'll sit down and talk about it. We definitely need to do something to be able to put the ball into play a little bit more consistently."
Game two of the series is set for Saturday at 4 p.m. with live video, 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 set to call the action.
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.
Free admission to the ballpark is available for all fans. There are a limited number of reserved seats available in sections 101 and 107 on a first-come, first-serve basis along with standing-room only admission to the berm located in left field.
Season tickets holders are still being asked to bring their tickets to Saturday's game to be able to sit in their normal chair-back and bleacher seats. Gates will open 90 minutes prior to first pitch.
As part of Brittany Mack's "Geaux Play" initiative, LSU softball is encouraging fans to share the gift of sports with special needs children. Fans can donate new or gently used sports equipment during the remaining LSU softball home games at Tiger Park. For more information, visit www.LSUsports.net/geauxplay.
All items collected will be given directly to the Miracle League Association and six local schools that Mack will visit during the season. At LSU's series finale versus Ole Miss on April 22, Mack will invite all the children to the game as her special VIP guests for "Geaux Play" day at Tiger Park.
Softball Postgame Quotes
LSU vs. Arkansas - March 30, 2012
Head Coach Beth Torina
On getting the win with the offense continuing to fight throughout the game...
"This was the first time in a while where our hits haven't matched our runs. We didn't do a very good job with getting our hits with runners in scoring position. To their credit, [Chelsea] Cohen made some big pitches at big times. She really kept us from getting the big hits when we had runners on-base."
On bringing in Simone Heyward to spark the offense...
"That was a key. It's so nice to have so many options like that on our bench. It's so nice that she's able to come in and have a quality at-bat like that. It shows how focused she was throughout the seven innings."
On Rachele Fico's performance...
"She threw a lot of strikes tonight, she got a lot of people to swing tonight. She was all around the zone, and she comes so hard around the zone - she's really tough to hit. We're lucky to have her."
On the need to make adjustments when facing Chelsea Cohen going forward in the series...
"We definitely need to have a better plan with [Chelsea] Cohen. We don't know what our adjustments will be, but we'll sit down and talk about it. We definitely need to do something to be able to put the ball into play a little bit more consistently."
Pitcher Rachele Fico
On starting the series off with a win...
"It was huge getting the win tonight against Arkansas. They've beaten some quality teams this year, so you just have to respect an opponent like that. We had to just keep fighting throughout the game. We had a couple of hits throughout the game. We just had to piece them together. We were finally able to do that in the seventh inning, and we came up really big."
On what worked for her tonight...
"Coach [Beth] Torina was really calling pitches that kept the batters off-balanced. We were working both sides of the plate; we were working up and down in the zone. So I felt really good tonight, and my defense played really well behind me. It makes it easy to pitch when I know we're going to come up and make big plays when we have to."
On keeping things in perspective with this win...
"We need to continue fighting and continue making adjustments throughout the weekend. We did a good job of that tonight. It took a little bit longer than we would have liked, but we came up big in the seventh inning. Simone [Heyward] came in and drew a walk. That's huge for us, and it allowed our other speed players [A.J. Andrews and Jacee Blades] to come in behind her and do their jobs."
Centerfielder A.J. Andrews
On being resilient and fighting throughout the game to get the victory...
"It was great that we could come out like that and pull through. We definitely don't give up - I think that's a very good asset to our team. We are very resilient so you never know what's going to happen because we never give up. It's always a fight."
On what they can do to adjust if they see Chelsea Cohen again in the series...
"We just need to know what to expect more. I think today we didn't make as many adjustments as we should have made. So I definitely think that going into the next game, if we make more adjustments, we'll be good to go."