Rachele Fico, LSU defense shine in 3-0 defeat of Arizona

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Rachele Fico turned in a masterful performance, firing a four-hit gem to claim her sixth shutout of the season, as the No. 11-ranked LSU softball team defeated No. 14 Arizona 3-0 on Saturday at the Mary Nutter Classic.

It was LSU’s second win in 10 attempts over Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona (10-5). In winning, the Tigers (14-1) notched their 14th victory in 15 games, equaling their best start since 2007.

Their win was due in no small part to Fico.

“Rachele has waited a long time to be the No. 1 pitcher and pitch in these types of big games,” first-year coach Beth 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 (9-0) limited the potent Arizona attack to a season-low four hits. The senior right-hander had five strikeouts allowed two walks.

“The goal was to keep their hitters in control and off-balance,” 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, and I told her how she made me feel comfortable on the mound.”

LSU jumped out to a 2-0 lead during the first inning. Jacee Blades chopped an infield single down the third-base line followed by Allison Falcon’s third home run of the season on a the seventh pitch of the sequence, a line drive over the left-field fence.

The Tigers tacked on another run and took advantage of a Kellsi Kloss leadoff walk during the second inning. Three batters later, after a Kailey McCasland sacrifice bunt, A.J. Andrews cranked an RBI double into the left-center gap to make it 3-0.

Arizona got a pair of base runners on during the first inning, but Fico wiggled her way out of trouble with a popup and strikeout. The Oxford, Conn., native found her groove and sat down 10 consecutive batters.

The Wildcats had their best opportunity to score in the sixth inning. Bridgette Del Ponte and Chelsea Goodacre connected a walk and a single with one out. However, Fico buckled down and received back-to-back spectacular plays on ground balls from infielders Falcon and Tammy Wray, keeping the Wildcats off the scoreboard.

“The defense played tremendous behind me, there are not enough good things I can say about them,” Fico said. “They’re so awesome, and they plan so hard behind me. I’m just really lucky to have them and know that they have my back all the time.”

LSU squares off against
No. 16 UCLA at 11 a.m. Sunday on the final day of the Mary Nutter Classic.