BATON ROUGE - The 2013 LSU softball team is ready to "Rule the Day" and get back to the pinnacle of the sport with a return trip to the Women's College World Series under second-year coach Beth Torina.
The Tigers embraced the philosophy of "Whatever It Takes" last season as seven seniors left their mark on the program and built on LSU's championship legacy.
"The most important thing was the way we did it last year," Torina said. "On paper, I think there were a lot of teams in the country that were more talented than we were. The fact was our team truly came together, and they accomplished their goals by using their will, their determination and their hearts. To me, that's the biggest lesson we learned during the entire College World Series experience."
Once again, LSU has all of the necessary ingredients in place with a solid nucleus of experience, depth and talented newcomers to reach its goals.
"The theme 'Rule the Day' is all about details and earning it every day," Torina said. "The Player of the Day gets a ruler, and it's the measuring stick of the day. You earned it, you did the work and you were the player that stood out the most. It's is about ruling everything we do and not just our practices. We want them to rule every day and look at it as a day-to-day process not a season long goal. We try to rule every detail we come across during the day."
"This team understands that they have to be themselves," Torina continued. "They have to win and get to their goals in their own way. There's no doubt that they are a very different type of team. I think the taste and experience of the College World Series is something that will take us a long way. I'm making them understand that isn't something that entitles them or gives them extra benefits. We preach that to them on a daily basis."
Below is a position-by-position preview of the Tigers.
LSU has had a longstanding tradition as one of the nation's premier pitching programs as five different players have collected NFCA All-American status over the years. One of those five hurlers is back for her senior campaign in Rachele Fico.
Fico, a 2013 All-SEC Preseason-Team selection and 2012 USA Softball Player of the Year Top 25 finalist, highlights a four-arm arsenal. She racked up 20 victories, while her 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts were fourth and fifth nationally, respectively.
Fico secured marquee victories over eventual national champion Alabama along with a pair of victories over Texas A&M and Missouri en route to NCAA College Station Regional and NCAA Columbia Super Regional MVP honors last season. The Connecticut native enters her senior season 35 Ks away from becoming the fifth pitcher in program history to reach 600 career strikeouts.
"There's no doubt that Rachele had a spectacular season and was a big part of our program returning to the Women's College World Series," Torina said. "The great thing about Rachele is that she's always wants to get better and has worked extremely hard during the offseason. She's a fantastic competitor, a great teammate and the type of person that is far less interested in individual awards and more invested in what she can do to help her team win."
All Meghan Patterson has done in her first two seasons in the Purple and Gold has won 10 of her 11 career decisions and recorded 131 strikeouts over her 92.0 innings of action. She was touched up for only for only two runs over her 32 frames last season.
"Meghan has truly waited her turn," Torina said. "Sitting behind Brittany Mack and Rachele Fico for the last two years is a tough job. She played that role to the absolute best you could ask someone. She is so talented and deserves every minute she will pitch this year. She has great pitches and moves the ball around the zone the best of anyone on this staff. She is capable of throwing any pitch in any count in any location."
Ashley Czechner is coming off a national championship season at Chattanooga State where she was named the NJCAA's Pitcher of the Year on the junior college level. She amassed a 37-4 record, a stifling 0.72 ERA and 370 strikeouts. When not in the infield, Bianka Bell also could see some time for the Tigers in the circle.
"Ashley is a gamer, I don't think I know everything there is to know about her just yet," Torina said. "I would like to see what she is capable of doing in competition. I feel she is one of those fierce competitors that when the game is on the line wants the ball."
Calling the shots for LSU behind the dish will be Lauren Houston and Kellsi Kloss. Houston has garnered 105 appearances over her three seasons and tallied a career-best .429 on-base percentage last season, while Kloss was a three-time All-Empire League honoree at Pacifica High School in California.
LSU's infield will have a veteran presence as three of the four starters from last year's WCWS squad return to the fold.
Allison Falcon, one of team's three captains, will split time at shortstop and second base during the season. She bounced back with a breakout sophomore campaign after missing most of 2011 due to injury. She was second on the team in batting average, homers and RBIs during LSU's run to OKC.
"The way Allison leads the team on the field is very different from her personality off the field," Torina said. "When I have her in the middle infield, it's almost like I don't have to coach. I think she's the one person on the team that could fit in with anyone on the team. It's because she has that good repore with her teammates not to mention she is ridiculously intelligent. She understands the game and understands exactly what we're needed her to do."
Bianka Bell, the 2012 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year and NFCA High School All-America First-Team honoree, is penciled in to see action at both middle infield spots. During her prep career, she led Chamberlain High School to a 7A championship and was a USA Softball Junior National Team Camp participant.
Rikki Alcaraz also will be in the middle infield mix and made the most of her opportunities with hits in nine of her 16 starts last season.
Tammy Wray returns to the hot corner and has started 112 of a potential 123 games over her first two seasons. She will look to regain the offensive form of her freshman season where she belted eight home runs and 33 RBIs to rank second and third on the team.
Dylan Supak and Sandra Simmons are candidates to start at first base. Supak, the incumbent with 43 starts last season, delivered five multi-RBI efforts to rank third on the team. Simmons, a hard-nosed southpaw, is a four-time All-Sunset League recipient at Marina High School in California.
Along with Bell and Simmons, Hailey Smith is another one of the three ESPN Top 100 recruits the Tigers bring into the infield from Stonewall Jackson High School in Virginia. She is a candidate to log time at third base and designated player.
"We have some very talented freshmen in Bell, Simmons and Smith," Torina said. "They're very aggressive hitters and very aggressive players. I feel these three are very capable of setting the tone for our offense and bringing our lineup a different mentality."
LSU's outfield will have to fill the void left by a pair of experienced starters in Ashley Langoni and Ashley Applegate. The duo combined for 406 career starts, and Langoni was the team's leader in batting average, home runs and RBIs. However, the Tigers have the ability to not miss a beat and will once again be characterized by speed, power and depth.
Andrews was second on the team in runs scored primarily from the leadoff spot. She also swiped a team-high 15 stolen bases and provided one of the most memorable moments of the season when she crossed the plate for the game's only run on an infield sacrifice fly versus South Florida at the WCWS.
Heyward came on strong in the postseason after missing a majority of her sophomore season with an injury. She cranked her lone extra-base hit of the season, a three-run double, to erase a 1-0 hole during the deciding game of the NCAA Columbia Super Regional at Missouri.
"We have wonderful speed in the outfield," Torina said. "The group has learned a lot during the fall season under the tutelage our new volunteer coach Sharonda McDonald, who was a former All-American at Texas A&M. She has impacted them so much not only with their defense, but with slapping on the offensive side."
Jacee Blades, Alex Boulet, Alayna Falcon, Katie Guillory and Kailey McCasland give the Tigers a lot of depth in the outfield. When not in the outfield, all five are in the running to see at-bats in the designated player role.
Blades saw 21 of her 27 starts at DP a season ago, and her speed gives LSU another left-handed option in the lineup. She shared the team-lead with five sacrifice hits.
Boulet notched 27 of her 34 appearances last season as a pinch runner and had a knack for scoring the game-winning run on multiple occasions. She also registered an outfield assist against Arizona State at the WCWS.
Falcon was a two-time All-District and an All-State performer out of Donaldsonville.
Guillory was chosen as one of the team's three captains leading into the season. She missed the entire 2012 season due to injury and will be in the mix to see time in the outfield this season.
"Katie is the vocal leader for the team and this year's class of captains," Torina said. "She truly is the heart of this program. There is a huge difference in the way our team prepares and performs when Katie is around. This was more than obvious when we got to have her back in our dugout during last season's postseason run. She works so hard herself, but she also pushes the others to expect the same effort in their own performance."
Moving from the infield to the outfield is McCasland, a powerful right-hander. She earned 19 starts and also played a valuable pinch hitting role late last season where she recorded RBIs against Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M.