Georgia senior Erin Arevalo and LSU junior Rachele Fico combined to throw 440 pitches Friday night, battling each other inning after inning but getting little help from their offenses along the way.
On they went in a game that took nearly four hours to complete and went 14 innings without a run crossing the plate.
Georgia finally broke through when Kristyn Sandberg rounded third and scored from second as teammate Niaja Griffin reached on an LSU fielding error, allowing the 12th-ranked Bulldogs to take a 1-0, 15-inning win in the opening game of No. 23 LSU’s final regular-season home series.
Georgia (37-12, 14-9) pulled even with the Tigers (33-17, 14-9) for fourth place in the Southeastern Conference standings, surviving a game that surpassed last year’s 14-inning tussle with Alabama as the longest in the history of LSU softball.
The teams meet again at 4 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Park before wrapping up the three-game set at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“Both pitchers were absolutely phenomenal tonight,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “Absolutely the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen in my entire career. I think the two of them battling like that, it was absolutely unbelievable.”
Arevalo (20-5) gave up one measly hit in her 15 innings, registered 15 strikeouts and allowed only five LSU batters to reach base. Fico (15-9) was in danger far more, but Georgia struck out 13 times and left 16 runners on base.
Lack of run support has been a theme for Fico this season.
The right-hander from Connecticut entered the weekend with the nation’s second-best ERA, but the LSU offense has managed only four runs in her nine losses.
“I really can’t say enough about Rachele Fico,” Torina said. “She deserves to win so many games, and we’re just trying to find a way to get her run support because it seems she deserves to win every time she walks on the field right now.”
LSU’s hit came on a Morgan Russell’s one-out double in the 11th. Asleigh Kuhn went down on strikes and Kailey McCasland flew out to end that threat.
The Tigers had their best shot at victory after Heidi Pizer and A.J. Andrews drew back-to-back walks to start the ninth as it appeared Arevalo might be tiring. Speedy sophomore Alex Boulet pinch-ran for Pizer and spearheaded a double steal that left runners at second and third with nobody out.
After Jacee Blades popped out, three-hole hitter Ashley Langoni – the team leader in batting average, home runs and RBIs – came to bat.
Torina looked to catch the Georgia defense off-guard calling for Langoni to lay down a squeeze bunt. But the bunt was popped into foul territory, where Sandberg laid out from her catcher’s position to make the grab.
That’s when things got really interesting.
Boulet thought she had made the play of the game as she raced in from third and slid into home just after Arevalo got the ball back. Boulet would have been safe if Arevalo was outside of the pitcher’s circle, but the runner can’t leave the bag once the pitcher steps back inside the circle.
Because Arevalo was in the circle, Boulet was ruled out and the inning ended.
“I think if we get the bunt down, we’re in a totally different scenario there. We probably could have scored,” Torina said. “But the squeeze is a tough play, and there’s always a lot of pressure. It’s such a tough play to execute.”
Fico continued to keep Georgia down as long as she could, but the Bulldogs finally got the break they needed.
Sandberg led off the 15th by drawing a walk and reaching second on Ashley Razey’s groundout to second. Griffin came to bat with one away and dribbled the ball back to Fico for what looked like it would be the inning’s second out.
But as Kuhn received Fico’s putout attempt, Griffin made contact with the LSU first baseman and knocked the ball loose.
LSU’s only error allowed Sandberg to come home with the go-ahead run.
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