PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - The No. 11 LSU softball team faces its toughest challenge of the 2013 season to date as the Tigers travel to the west coast and start a 13-game road swing at the prestigious Mary Nutter Classic over the weekend.
LSU (10-1) has games scheduled against Pac-12 powers No. 14 Arizona [Saturday - 7 p.m. CT] and No. 16 UCLA [Sunday - 11 a.m. CT] along with BYU [Thursday - Noon CT], Ohio State [Friday - 5 p.m. CT] and UNLV [Friday - 7:30 p.m. CT].
The Tigers have won 10 of their first 11 games on the season, the program's best start since an 11-0 mark to open the 2007 season.
"This weekend will be a really good test for us, a really good test for our young kids and a really good test for our pitching staff," head coach Beth Torina said. "We'll find out a lot about ourselves this weekend. Hopefully, we're up for the challenge."
LSU's offense has posted a .289 team batting average, 70 points higher from a season ago. The Tigers also have already blasted 10 home runs from seven different players this season.
Bianka Bell, a Purple & Gold Challenge All-Tournament pick from last weekend, has hit safely in five of her last six outings fueled by a quartet of multi-hit performances. She has compiled a .407 batting average, two homers and six RBIs.
Allison Falcon put together a career-long eight-game hitting streak to open the season. She has produced a .375 hitting clip to go along with one home run and six RBIs. For Falcon, six of her team-leading 12 hits have gone for extra bases.
Tammy Wray has collected RBIs on five of her seven hits en route to a team-high nine RBIs, already matching her total from last season. Like Falcon, Wray has had four of her seven hits also go for extra bases.
Lauren Houston, another Purple & Gold Challenge All-Tournament selection, has turned in team-leading .583 batting average going 7-for-12 over her six starts. She also has tallied a home run and four RBIs.
"A lot of our lineup has a home run at this point which is exciting to see," Torina said. "I think Coach Dobson's philosophy is really getting into place. Coach Leftwich and Coach McDonald also work with these guys on a daily bases, and it's paying dividends. You can see the improvement, and a lot of the credit needs to go to the players themselves who have bought into the system. They are working so hard to make sure that they're prepared and doing everything that's asked of them."
Rachele Fico, the two-time Louisiana Pitcher of the Week, has been dominant in the circle. The senior right-hander has compiled a 6-0 record fueled by four shutouts and a sparking 0.38 ERA. The 6-0 mark is the best start for a LSU hurler since Cody Trahan opened the 2010 season by winning her first eight decisions.
Fico has amassed 51 strikeouts against five walks and limited opponents to a .143 hitting clip over her 36.2 innings of work. Last weekend, the Connecticut native became the sixth pitcher in program history to eclipse 600 career strikeouts. She enters the weekend eight Ks away from moving past Dani Hofer (2006-09) for fourth place on LSU's all-time list.
"Getting to 600 career strikeouts was an exciting moment for Rachele," Torina said. "I think she's going to continue to climb up that list throughout the season as she gets more and more innings. She deserves everything she gets. She's an amazing competitor, and it's fun to watch her every day."
Meghan Patterson has checked in with a 3-1 record and a crisp 1.06 ERA. In two of her three victories, she has tossed a complete game shutout. In her last outings, a 1-0 win over Nicholls State, Patterson recorded a season's best eight strikeouts.
"Meghan had some huge strikeouts which is something that Rachele is known for," Torina said. "When she gets runners on base, she's really able to shut the door. I think that's something that she has learned from sitting and watching Rachele do it for the last couple of years. What a great skill for a pitcher to have to be able to step up when the pressure is on. Meghan has really come through for us, and I'm really happy for her."
Every LSU softball game will have live stats available inside the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net/live. 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.