BATON ROUGE - Ashley Czechner tossed a one-hit shutout as the LSU softball team collected its 20th victory of the season, an 8-0 five-inning decision over Nicholls State Wednesday at Tiger Park.
LSU (20-5) scored all of its runs during an eight-run first inning. The Tigers were playing their first game at home since February 17 and won their 26th consecutive decision over Nicholls State (9-14) dating back to the 1997 season.
"What a relief to be home," head coach Beth Torina said. "We have the best fans in the country, and it was great to be back in front of them. It helps us play better, and we're happy to be back at home."
The Colonels had their best opportunity to score in the first inning. Ashley Bertot connected for an infield single to open the game, stole second base and advanced to third base as the ball deflected off the glove of shortstop Bianka Bell.
Two batters later, Ashton Bennett drew a walk to place runners on the corners. Czechner escaped the jam and registered one of her four strikeouts of the game.
LSU went to work right away during the home half of the frame. A.J. Andrews and Jacee Blades set the table with a single and a walk. After Allison Falcon grounded out into a fielder's choice, Bell was plunked to fill the bases.
Tammy Wray and Dylan Supak connected back-to-back RBI singles to make it 5-0. The Tigers continued to put the pressure on as Guillory knocked another single to reload the bases. Two batters later, Blades belted a two-run double to left centerfield. Guillory scored courtesy of a wild pitch to complete the eight-run frame.
"All of our slappers are capable of swinging away," Torina said. "It is just about getting the right opportunity for them, and that was a good opportunity to show what Jacee is capable of doing. They did a really good job in the lineup, one through nine tonight."
"I was excited to swing away," Blades said. "I was able to do that because my team set up the situation for me. If the people weren't on base, I would have had to slap and play the smaller game. Since we were ahead, I was able to swing away. That helps my confidence definitely, and I feel better about that situation."
LSU improved to 12-0 when scoring a first-inning run. The Tigers also have outscored their opponents by a 36-4 margin during the first inning on the season.
That would be more than enough run support for Czechner, who went to retire 10 straight and not allow another Nicholls base runner until the fifth inning. She finished with four strikeouts against one walk and improved to 5-0 on the season.
Bennett was tagged with the loss for the Colonels allowing all eight runs on six hits in two-thirds of an inning. She dropped to 6-6 for the season.
"My primary focus was to throw a lot of strikes, not give up a lot of walks and to just throw my game," Czechner said. "Coming in the second inning with an eight run lead, I felt very comfortable. I was able to throw certain pitches that normally I wouldn't be able to throw. I was able to work them into my counts. The whole team definitely plays better when we have a big lead."
LSU plays host to No. 17 Kentucky for a three-game series at Tiger Park over the weekend. Game times are slated for Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at noon. All three games of the series 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.
Saturday's game will be carried live by Cox Sports Television and Comcast Sports Southeast with Lyn Rollins and retired LSU softball coach Yvette Girouard set to call the action.Friday and Sunday's games will have live video available inside the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net/live.
Every game of LSU softball will have live stats available at LSUsports.net/livestats. Fans can also follow every pitch via live in-game updates at the program's social media outlets @lsusoftball on Twitter and www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball.
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.
A full weekend of promotions is on-tap for the Kentucky series. Friday's series opener will mark the program's annual "Gold Game" where all fans in attendance are encouraged to wear gold to support the Tigers.
On Saturday, LSU will celebrate Alumnae Day. The first 500 fans also can pick up a commemorative lapel pin honoring the Tigers run to the 2012 Women's College World Series.
As part of "Geaux Green Day" at the ballpark, the first 750 fans to Sunday's contest will take home color changing stadium cups for St. Patrick's Day.
LSU Softball Game Quotes - March 13, 2013
LSU vs. Nichols State
Head Coach Beth Torina
On returning home to Tiger Park and coming out strong in the first inning...
"What a relief to be home. It's awesome here in front of the Tiger fans. We have the best fans in the country. It was great to be back in front of them. It helps us play better, and we're happy to be back at home."
On five hits and eight runs in the first inning...
"She (Ashton Bennett) is a talented kid, and it was a tough (strike) zone that she had to throw in. I think what we did on Sunday at Mississippi State really carried on to today. We had a really good offensive plan. Hopefully, we can carry that into this weekend as well."
On Jacee Blades swinging away and the success of tonight's lineup...
"All of our slappers are capable of swinging away. It is just about getting the right opportunity for them, and that was a good opportunity to show what Jacee is capable of doing. They did a really good job in the lineup, one through nine tonight. We were able to get some people in, and that was fun tonight too."
On Ashley Czechner's performance tonight...
"She did a good job, and she had the tough (strike) zone as well. We were able to still throw strikes and be successful. A lot of credit goes to her for pitching in that. She did a really nice job for us tonight."
On facing Kentucky this weekend...
"They have one of the best coaches (Rachel Lawson) in the country. They will be well prepared, intelligent and solid. We know what we can expect from them. We just have to play our game and get our team prepared tomorrow. They will be solid in all aspects of the game without question. Every time we take the field in the SEC, it is a challenge without a doubt."
On her primary focus tonight...
"My primary focus was to throw a lot of strikes, not give up a lot of walks and to just throw my game. I knew the umpire was going to be a little tight so I tried not to get frustrated when he called a pitch a ball when I thought it was a strike."
On settling into a rhythm and holding Nichols to one hit...
"After I gave up that first hit (during the first inning), a weight was lifted off my shoulders because when you get down to those outs later in the game, you are kind of freaking out. After that hit, I started to calm down. I got into my groove, threw my pitches and make them work."
On having an eight-run lead to work with in the 2nd inning...
"Coming in the second inning with an eight run lead, I felt very comfortable. I was able to throw certain pitches that normally I wouldn't be able to throw. I was able to work them into my counts. The whole team definitely plays better when we have a big lead."
On facing Kentucky this weekend...
"We are so excited for Kentucky to come to Tiger Park. We have been preparing for this. We are definitely going to keep the energy up and try to play them like we played at Mississippi State last Sunday."
LF Jacee Blades...
On starting strong offensively with an eight-run first inning...
"We were really excited to play at home again. We had a great game last Sunday, and it was important for us to keep that same intensity. We started with a hitting great plan that we got from our coaches. We all knew what pitches would be coming, how to wait on it and stay calm until we got our pitch. Hits are contagious so we just kept going with it."
On her two-run double in the first inning...
"I was excited to swing away. I was able to do that because my team set up the situation for me. If the people weren't on base, I would have had to slap and play the smaller game. Since we were ahead, I was able to swing away. That helps my confidence definitely, and I feel better about that situation."
On facing Kentucky this weekend and improving from tonight's game...
"We will get our practice in tomorrow and focus on the pitches that might be thrown. An SEC game is always tough, and we will give it our best. I know Kentucky will give it their best. We will just take it one game at a time and come out with a high intensity for sure. We play our best when we play that way."