LSU softball beats UNC, Purdue at Tiger Classic

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU pitcher Rachele Fico was selected as one of 10 finalists from across the country for the 2013 Senior CLASS Award on Wednesday.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU pitcher Rachele Fico was selected as one of 10 finalists from across the country for the 2013 Senior CLASS Award on Wednesday.

A dash of timely hitting, a sprinkle of solid defense and a liberal dosage of dominant pitching propelled No. 10 LSU to two wins in its season-opening night.

The Tigers saw both of their starting pitchers, senior Rachele Fico and junior Meghan Patterson, fire complete-game shutouts while the offense proved capable of putting up runs.

LSU dropped No. 22 North Carolina 8-0 in the first game before holding on 1-0 against Purdue in the nightcap.

“We saw a lot of good things, and I feel like we had two really quality opponents today,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “So to do that against those two teams, I feel (it) was a really good day.”

The Tigers wasted no time taking the lead in their season opener against the Tar Heels (0-2).

Freshman second baseman Bianka Bell launched a ball deep to right-center field in her first collegiate at bat. North Carolina center fielder Tisha Mahon caught the ball, but collided with the right fielder and fell to the ground after the catch.

Sophomore outfielder A.J. Andrews took advantage, tagging up and scoring from second to give LSU a lead it would not relinquish.

Junior third baseman Tammy Wray added insurance later in the first inning when she hit a two-run home run over the left field wall.

The homer capped a five-run first inning and was the first in 131 at bats for Wray.

“It’s always good to come out and hit like that, especially for our pitchers,” Wray said. “It gives us confidence throughout the game. We have some leeway.”

Fico posted a solid final line to earn the win against North Carolina, with five strikeouts in five shutout innings. But she had to work her way out of trouble several times early in the game before settling in late.

“Our offense was so explosive,” Fico said. “That makes my life easy, but I think I got a little complacent. A little too relaxed having that many runs on the board.”

Fico loaded the bases twice in the first three innings, but both times managed to keep the Tar Heels from crossing the plate.

North Carolina threatened one more time in the fourth inning, getting runners to second and third with one out. But Fico struck out the No. 1 and 2 hitters in the Tar Heels order to preserve the shutout.

The Tigers would have to wait a little later for the decisive moment of the second game.

Patterson was on cruise control for much of the contest, allowing only three Purdue hits while striking out six, saying after the game that her rise ball was her most effective pitch.

But the Boilermakers threatened to break open a scoreless game in the top of the fifth inning when their first two runners reached.

That’s when Wray flashed her glove and made a pair of nifty plays to secure the shutout.

Wray charged a sacrifice bunt attempt and fired a throw to Bell, who was covering third base, to get the lead runner for the first out.

She then picked up a dribbler down the third-base line and tagged the base just in time for the second out.

Patterson ended the threat with a strikeout. She retired the last nine batters she faced.

“I thought (Patterson) was fantastic today,” Torina said. “She’s going to be very difficult to hit because she does so many different things.”

Freshman catcher Kellsi Kloss then drove in the only run in the bottom of the frame with a solo shot to left field.

She was the first LSU softball player to hit a home run in her first career game since Anissa Young in 2009.

LSU plays Tulsa at 5 p.m. Saturday, before facing Hampton, coached by former LSU All-American Trena Peel, at 7:30 p.m..

“We still have our work cut out for us, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Torina said.