BATON ROUGE, La. – After watching the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs score five runs in a single inning to erase a four-score lead, the No. 25 LSU softball team got big spark from the bat of sophomore shortstop Bianka Bell who hit the team’s second two-run home run of the night to put the Tigers back on top and send the team to a game one, 6-5 win Friday night at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.
After LSU (33-20, 13-10 SEC) scored in each of the first three innings of the game, Mississippi State (37-17, 9-13) racked up seven hits in the fourth on LSU starting pitcher Ashley Czechner to put the squad on the ropes, but the offense of the Tigers came through and the senior pitcher weathered the storm retiring eight of the next 13 after that inning to close the door push the team’s winning streak to six games.
“She did a nice job. I thought she had good stuff all night,” head coach Beth Torina said. “We just needed to make an adjustment with some pitch calling issues. I thought we gave them too many opportunities with the pop-ups in that inning. We kind of created that big inning as well as they earned it. A lot of that was on us as well.”
LSU got a big spark right off the bat, literally, as freshman Sahvanna Jaquish belted her team-leading 13th home run of the season in the bottom of the first to give LSU a 2-0 lead, as her only hit of the night also proved to be historic as she now owns the record for the most by Tiger in her first year of collegiate action. Bell, who held the title up until tonight, set some high marks of her own as she became the third player in team history to earn double-digit home runs seasons in a career at LSU with her tenth of the year, while together they are only the fourth Tiger duo in program history to have at least 10 in the same year.
“I think Sahvanna has been swinging well lately. She has done so many good things for us as a freshman,” Torina said. “Bianka is one of the most feared hitters in this conference, and she showed exactly why tonight.”
LSU pounded out 10 hits on the evening and got production throughout the order as Bailey Landry went 2-for-2 with an RBI, while Tammy Wray went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored. Bell went 1-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Jaquish went 1-for-2 with two RBI and a run scored, extending her hitting streak to nine games which ties the second-longest for a player this season.
Czechner had to battle, but in the end she earned her third consecutive start to improve to 12-11 on the year after going all seven innings and allowing five runs, three earned, on 11 hits with three walks and five strikeouts. While the Bulldogs outhit the Tigers in the end, Mississippi State stranded nine runners on base to LSU’s six.
“I wasn’t too worried. We have been swinging the bat so well and putting up double digit numbers,” Czechner said. “I was mad at myself. I didn’t make the adjustments quick enough, and their hitters did. I am really glad my team had my back tonight.”
Mississippi State had three players finish with multiple hits, as the big swings came from Julia Echols and Logan Foulks who went back-to-back in home runs to kick start that scoring binge by the Bulldogs in the fifth, combining to go 2-for-6 with two RBI and two runs scored.
MSU pitcher Alexis Silkwood struck out six in her 4.1 innings of work, but exited after allowing all six runs on nine hits with two walks on 118 pitches. Jacey Punches pitched the final 1.2, giving up a hit with a walk on just 21 pitches in relief.
As she has been used to doing lately, Andrews opened the game for Tigers offensively with a hit, earning a single up the middle to reach first. After stealing second, a strikeout put the first out on the board for LSU, but that didn’t deter Jaquish who launched one over the Berm in left for the home run to put the Tigers up 2-0 over the Bulldogs after one.
“Our offense is on fire,” Jaquish said. “I feel like I get a lot of confidence because hitting is contagious. It is really great to see the entire line-up hit, one through nine.”
Czechner got herself out of a big jam in the top of the second, as an opening-frame walk put one on for MSU. A deep grounder behind the bag at second was stopped by Bell, but she could only get the throw at first as the runner advanced to second. A hit batter put two on for Mississippi State, as an infield single loaded the bases. With the pressure on, Czechner stood firm and got the next batter to go down swinging and froze the next looking to end the inning.
After two batters went down relatively quickly in the bottom of the second, Wray lifted one off the wall in the gap in left center, trotting in easily for the stand-up double. A very lengthy at bat by Landry proved to be fruitful, as on the ninth pitch of the at bat she finally got one to go and poked one through the infield scoring Wray to make it 3-0 LSU.
With one out in the third, Jaquish got walked on four straight pitches to take first, but was put out on the next play on a fielder’s choice by Bell. With a stacked count in her favor, Kloss ripped a double off of the wall in right to advance Bell to third to put two in scoring position, as the LSU shortstop would score on a wild pitch to make it 4-0.
Mississippi State roared back to life in the fourth, exploding for five runs on seven hits in the frame, paced by back-to-back home runs by Echols and Foulks to lead the charge as the inning ended with four consecutive hits and Landry throwing out a runner at home for the third out with MSU leading 5-4.
After a strikeout in the bottom of the fifth, Wray battled through a lengthy opportunity at the plate but finished it with a hard-hit single to third to reach first. Landry would not need as many pitches as she followed with a shot to left center to put two on for LSU, but the two would be left stranded as an infield popup and swinging strikeout ended the inning.
Now in the comeback role, LSU took to the bottom of the fifth and led off with another walk to Jaquish to put one on, with Alex Boulet coming on to pinch run. Known for her speed, Boulet wouldn’t need much more than a healthy trot as Bell connected on a laser shot that cleared the fence in right center for the two-run bomb to put LSU back on top 6-5.
“We did our job as a team. We were very selfless tonight,” Bell said. “The seniors stepped up tonight. They came in the dugout tonight and told us where to stand in the box and how they executed. They set me up for my homerun in the fifth inning.”
First pitch for game two of the series is set for 7 p.m. Saturday night. The game will be televised live on Cox Sports Television.
LSU HEAD COACH BETH TORINA
On Sahvanna Jaquish and Bianka Bell’s home runs…
“I think Sahavanna has been swinging well lately. She has done so many good things for us as a freshman. I think the future of this program is so bright with someone like her in the lineup. Bianka is one of the most feared hitters in this conference, and she showed exactly why tonight.”
On Ashley Czechner’s performance and LSU’s defense tonight…
“She did a nice job. I thought she had good stuff all night. We just needed to make an adjustment with some pitch calling issues. I thought we gave them too many opportunities with the pop-ups in that inning. We kind of created that big inning as well as they earned it. A lot of that was on us as well.”
On senior day…
“It was a bitter sweet day. It has been the best two years here, and it has really flown by. I am just glad I have such an amazing offense today to get the win and pick me up.”
On Mississippi State taking the lead in the fourth inning…
“I wasn’t too worried. We have been swinging the bat so well and putting up double digit numbers. I was more mad at myself. I didn’t make the adjustments quick enough, and their hitters did. I am really glad my team had my back tonight.”
On her home run tonight…
“I’ve been hitting the ball hard. I grounded out to third base twice. I was trying see the ball a little deeper and hit behind the runner so I could move her in to score the run.”
On LSU’s offensive performance tonight…
“We did our job as a team. We were very selfless tonight. Seniors stepped up tonight. They came in the dugout tonight and told us where to stand in the box and how they executed. They set me up for my homerun in the fifth inning.”
On LSU’s offensive performance tonight…
“Our offense is on fire. I feel like I get a lot of confidence because hitting is contagious. It is really great to see the entire line-up hit, one through nine.”