Winning out West
Fico’s no-hitter highlights weekend in LSU Softball
LSU senior pitcher Rachele Fico pitched her second career no-hitter, and the Tiger softball squad won four of its five games over the weekend in the first of consecutive road trip swings.
Fico’s Friday night gem vs. Ohio State was the first of two wins on the day for LSU (14-2) at the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs, Calif. The win pushed LSU to 13-1 on the season, equaling its best start since 2007, when the Tigers started the season with an identical record.
“Ohio State has a really good offense, but Rachele was able to shut them down,” head coach Beth Torina said. “Happy anytime that someone can throw a no-hitter. It was definitely a team no-hitter. We got some great defensive plays. Offensively, we did a very good job overall. We’re doing some good things swinging the bat, but there’s always room for improvement.”
By ending the game with her sixth strikeout, Fico also moved past Dani Hofer into sole possession of fourth place on LSU’s all-time strikeout leaders list
“Today was a team effort, my defense played great behind me,” Fico said. “Ohio State was putting the bat on the ball and fouling off a lot of pitches off. I didn’t have that many strikeouts. I had to go deep in counts and work hard to get the outs.”
LSU’s offense put up a game worthy of Fico’s start, as all nine starters recorded hits en route to an eight-run, 14-hit effort against a Buckeye squad that had been receiving votes in both top-25 polls.
The signature victory of the weekend, however, came against No. 14 Arizona on Saturday. Behind a four-hitter from Fico, the Tigers picked up their tenth-straight victory, the second-longest streak under Torina at LSU. The shutout was Fico’s sixth of the season, and Allison Falcon added a home run in the winning effort.
“Rachele has waited a long time to be the No. 1 pitcher and pitch in these types of big games,” Torina said. “She’s earned every bit of being the ace of our staff. I had to slow her down at one point because she was so excited about this game. She did a great job of holding them in check for the entire game and is starting to separate herself as one of the nation’s elite pitchers.”
Fico admitted to getting a little over-excited before the game.
“The goal was to keep their hitters in control and off balanced,” Fico said. “We were working both sides of the plate, changing plains and changing speeds. Arizona is a great program with so much history, and they have earned their reputation of being one of the best. You get a little more intense and a little more hyped for these types of games. I had to make sure I stayed within myself, and I admit I was a little too fired up in the first inning. Tammy Wray was a soothing presence for me (at third base), and I told her how she made me feel comfortable on the mound.”
Falcon, also, was key to settling Fico down, as her dinger in the first inning gave the Tiger pitcher a two-run cushion. Falcon followed Jacee Blades’ single with a seven-pitch at-bat culminating in a line drive that cleared the left field fence. The shot was Falcon’s team-leading third on the season, and the two RBI gave her the team-high at 11.
“I had an uncharacteristically long at-bat,” Falcon said. “I don’t really do that too often. I was just barely missing and sticking with the hitting plan that Coach Dobson and Coach Leftwich gave us. I found the pitch that I liked the most and swung as hard as I could. It’s been working for us really well in the first inning, but we need to maintain that momentum throughout the whole game. There’s always room for improvement in that aspect.”
The bats didn’t carry over Sunday, however, as LSU dropped to 14-2 with a loss to No. 16 UCLA. Despite out-hitting the Bruins seven to three, the Tigers couldn’t scrape across any runs for Fico, who dropped her first decision of the season. Fico recorded nine strikeouts on the day and surrendered just the three hits, but walked four batters and hit two more.
“They were able to get a couple of breaks, and we didn’t throughout the game,” Torina said. “For the most part, Rachele was able to get them off balanced. I think it showed that we threw her four days in a row. She was still able to strike out nine batters and is going to be the one in the circle we’re going to count in throughout the season.”
“UCLA made the most of their opportunities,” Fico added. “You can’t take anything away from them. They are a great program. We’re definitely going to learn from this experience and know what we have to work on in practice to continue to get better. ”
LSU will return to the diamond on the other side of the country Friday, when they travel to Orlando, Fla. for the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic. There the Tigers will meet No. 9 Oregon, No. 15 Michigan, No. 18 Syracuse, Penn State and Syracuse to wrap up the non-conference tournament schedule.
“It’s definitely a grind, and we have to put our work in this week at practice to be prepared,” Torina said. “There’s no doubt we have our work cut out for us next weekend and face five solid programs. We just have to grind it out game-by-game, and as coaches try to get them prepared as much as we can.”