FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The No. 13 LSU softball team erased a four-run deficit and registered a 5-4 comeback victory over Arkansas to claim the rubber game of a three-game series Sunday at Bogle Park.
LSU (33-8, 9-3 SEC) has won all four of its SEC series on the season. With the victory, the Tigers maintained sole possession of first place in the SEC Western Division standings and have 13 of its last 14 meetings over Arkansas (26-15, 4-8 SEC) going back to the 2009 season.
“Our players fought extremely hard for every run, and I thought every inch of that game was a battle,” head coach Beth Torina said. “Arkansas is a really quality opponent, and credit them for swinging the bats well the entire weekend. There’s no doubt that we had to fight the entire seven innings for that hard-fought win.”
A.J. Andrews led the way with a 3-for-4 performance from the top of the lineup. She scored two runs which included the game-winner on a wild pitch and drove home the equalizer with a RBI triple during the sixth inning. Bianka Bell, Jacee Blades and Allison Falcon also secured RBIs for the Tigers.
Rachele Fico went the distance to earn her 20th win of the season. She worked around a four-run second inning and six walks. The senior right-hander tallied six strikeouts and joined former All-American Britni Sneed along with Ashley Lewis as the only three pitchers in program history to notch a trio of 20-win seasons.
“Rachele did a fantastic job of staying tough with her mentality,” Torina said. “I thought she fought really hard. It was a battle for her the entire way. Arkansas was very prepared with their offensive approach. Credit to Rachele for being able to stay tough and fight through the early adversity with her teammates.”
Down 4-0, LSU scratched out three runs in the fifth inning. Lauren Houston ignited the rally as she reached base on an Arkansas error. Simone Heyward drew a walk, while Andrews and Blades tacked on infield singles to put the Tigers on the scoreboard. All three players were down in the count 0-2 during their at-bats.
Bell ripped a RBI single to left field, while Falcon followed a sacrifice fly to deep centerfield to draw LSU within 4-3.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re losing 4-0, but our team did a really good job of staying pumped up,” Andrews said. “We decided that we were going to keep fighting until the very end. Nothing that happened was going to keep us down. As slappers Simone, Jacee and I just want to put the ball on the ground and run. Whether the count is 0-2 or 3-0, we’re looking for the right pitch to make something happen.”
The Tigers used some two-out magic to complete the comeback during the sixth inning. Once again, Heyward battled back from a 0-2 count to collect a free pass. Andrews cranked a RBI triple to the right field fence to even the tally at 4-4. On the next pitch, Andrews scampered home courtesy of a wild pitch to vault LSU ahead by a 5-4 margin.
“Simone was our spark plug, and did a really good job of battling back from a couple of 0-2 counts to draw some keys walks,” Torina said. “Simone, A.J. and Jacee always seem to be the ones that are sparking the rallies and create a lot of runs for us. A.J. is a tough out for sure and does a great job of using all of her weapons at the right time.”
“I decided to go up there and swing away on my last at-bat,” Andrews said. “She threw the first pitch inside to me to get a strike. I felt in my gut that she was going to do that again. I prepared for that, and thanks goodness I was able to hit the ball hard for a triple. I was pumped after I got the triple and was ready to score. The excitement was overflowing when I slid across the plate safely.”
The Tigers made a pair of stellar defensive plays to lock up the 5-4 triumph. Tammy Wray turned an inning-ending double play on a line drive with the help of a Sandra Simmons stretch to end the sixth inning followed by a diving Simmons stop on a sharp ground ball to open the seventh inning.
“Sandra is such a tough, hard-nosed and gutsy player,” Torina said. “She’s going to fight for her spot on the bag, and she made a great diving stop to start the seventh inning. I thought that play changed the entire complexion of that inning by keeping the leadoff runner off base.”
Arkansas platted all four of its runs in the second inning. Sierra Bronkey belted a two-run homer after
Clarisa Navarro was issued a leadoff walk. The Razorbacks pushed their lead to 3-0 after Jennifer Rambo singled, stole second base and scored on Claire Clark’s RBI single.
The Arkansas four-run frame was completed after a bang-bang play on a fielder’s choice play. Bell was ruled by the umpire that she missed the second base bag. The ball squirted away after contact which enabled Clark to cross the plate.
LSU wraps up its eight-game road swing and meets No. 9 Texas A&M for the first time as SEC rivals. The three-game weekend set begins Friday at 7 p.m. followed by a 4 p.m. start on Saturday and a 12:30 p.m. first pitch on Sunday. The Saturday and Sunday contests will be televised by ESPN and FSN, respectively.
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.
Every game of LSU softball this season 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.