Ninth-inning rally propels LSU softball team past Kentucky

A.J. Andrews and Jacee Blades hit back-to-back infield singles in the bottom of the ninth inning to vault the No. 13 LSU softball team to a dramatic 4-3 comeback victory over No. 17 Kentucky on Saturday in front of a season-high 1,489 fans at Tiger Park.

LSU (22-5, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) has won eight of its last 10 outings to remain in sole possession of first place in the Western Division standings. The Wildcats (19-6, 2-3) lost back-to-back games for the first time since opening weekend.

Trailing 3-2 after UK’s Ansley Smith knocked her first career home run onto the left-field berm during the top of the ninth inning, the Tigers started their rally on a Tammy Wray single to left.

Pinch runner Alex Boulet moved to second base on a Rikki Alcaraz sacrifice bunt, then scooted to third on a wild pitch. Simone Heyward followed with a five-pitch walk and stole second base.

That set the stage for A.J. Andrews, who dropped down a squeeze bunt that scored Boulet, tying the score at 3. Three pitches later, Blades chopped an infield single to the right side, allowing Heyward to cross the plate, giving LSU the win.

“Before I batted, coach (Beth Torina) told me we have two of the fastest people on the team on. She said, ‘If you’re safe, then they (Andrews and Heyward) are going to be safe.’ I knew that I just needed to use the ground and not overpower anything. We had only one out, and I tried to put it on the right side of the field because I knew Simone would score.”

LSU manufactured a run to take 1-0 edge in the third inning. Alcaraz, who was 2-for-2, hit an infield single and stole second base. She moved to third on a Heyward groundout, and three batters later, Alcaraz raced home on Allison Falcon’s sacrifice fly — her team-leading 19th RBI of the season.

The Tigers tacked on another run during the fourth inning. Kellsi Kloss belted a leadoff double off the left-field wall and scored on an Alcaraz triple, extending the LSU advantage to 2-0.

LSU starter Meghan Patterson found her rhythm and retired 11 straight Wildcats after she stranded a pair of base runners over the first two innings.

But Kentucky used a two-out rally in the sixth inning. Maisie Steed collected a four-pitch walk before Christian Stokes cranked a two-run homer to left-center with two outs, tying the score at 2.

The Tigers later turned to pitcher Rachele Fico (14-3), who got out of the inning.

“Meghan did a really good job today,” Torina said. “She missed one pitch, and it cost her significantly. Hopefully, she will grow from this. The more she gets out there, the more she will understand the mistakes she can and can’t make. Hopefully in the near future, she will be able to finish them out and will be carrying us through Saturday.”

Both teams stranded multiple runners on-base during the seventh inning before the Smith homer with one out in the ninth inning gave UK a 3-2 lead.

Patterson had five strikeouts and one walk in 5.2 innings. She allowed two runs on three hits.

In relief, Fico notched her fourth SEC victory.

Cumbess went the distance for the Wildcats and gave up four runs, three earned, on seven hits. She picked up five strikeouts against four walks and her record evened up at 3-3 for the season.

“Kentucky is going to come at us (Sunday) with their best,” Torina said. “I am sure they are going to have some changes and do some things differently. We just have to continue to pound away at them with our offensive plan. We just have to keep fighting through it because it is not going to be an easy ball game tomorrow.”