Two-out hits lift LSU softball team past South Carolina

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLANDLSU's Jacee Blades is safe after returning to first base as South Carolina's Dana Hathorn applies the tag during Friday's game at Tiger Park. LSU won the series opener, 4-0.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLANDLSU's Jacee Blades is safe after returning to first base as South Carolina's Dana Hathorn applies the tag during Friday's game at Tiger Park. LSU won the series opener, 4-0.

Pair of two-out hits lead to 4-0 victory for Tigers

The LSU softball team has been extremely good so far this season in getting timely hits to drive in runs.

Friday night was no exception.

The 13th-ranked Tigers scored all of their runs on a pair of two-out hits in a 4-0 win over South Carolina in the first game of a three-game Southeastern Conference series at Tiger Park.

After being held by South Carolina pitcher Audrey Broyles to one single in the first three innings, LSU got a two-run home run from designated player Rikki Alcaraz in the fourth inning and a two-RBI single from left fielder Jacee Blades in the fifth for all of its scoring.

Actually, that was a lot more than pitcher Rachele Fico needed.

After allowing one single in each of the first three innings, Fico retired 13 of the final 14 batters she faced — with a walk mixed in — for a complete-game, three-hit shutout to secure the win for LSU (26-5, 6-1 SEC).

Fico, who struck out seven batters, was solid as all three hits by South Carolina (17-10, 0-4 SEC) came with two outs. The Gamecocks were second in the SEC in hitting at .348 and fourth in runs scored going into the game.

“I just take it for granted, don’t I?” LSU coach Beth Torina said of Fico’s performance. “I just think that is her job and she does it every day.

“We name the players of the game and I named Rikki and Jacee,” she added. “I just assumed Rachele did her job. But she’s fantastic and we’ve come to expect that from her.”

South Carolina second baseman Dana Hathorn had two of the three hits off Fico, one of them a rocket off the glove of third baseman Tammy Wray in the first inning.

When Hathorn got her second hit of the night in the third, Fico settled in and took control of the game and held the Gamecocks hitless the rest of the way.

“Some balls were just able to find a hole and they were able to land,” said Fico, a senior who improved to 16-3 in recording the 70th win of her career. “We were able to get outs and were able to shut them down when they got runners on base. Then, as the game went on I felt like we got stronger.”

After retiring the Gamecocks in order for the first time in the fourth, Alcaraz unloaded a two-run home run to left-center field, her third of the season, to break up the duel between Broyles and Fico.

“I didn’t have a good at-bat the first time up,” said Alcaraz. “I just made an adjustment to the pitcher.”

LSU padded the lead in the bottom of the sixth.

Wray led off the inning with a double just inside the third-base line and Simone Heyward followed with a sharp single. After Heyward stole third, Blades rapped a single to left field to score both runners.

“Last year, we had a little bit of that (two-out hitting),” Blades said. “This year, we’re not even looking at the outs as much. Whoever is up is going to get the job done.

“We don’t panic just because there are two outs.”

Torina agreed.

“We did a good of battling,” she said of the clutch hits. “They did a really good job of battling through some situations. They have shown a lot of fight all year, so it doesn’t surprise me a ton when we score with two outs because they’ve done such a good job.”

The series will continue at 3 p.m. Saturday with the finale scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.