Fico, Tigers focused on winning regional

LSU All-America pitcher Rachele Fico didn’t have time Thursday to think about anything but helping get the Tigers softball team to the NCAA super regionals next week.

There wasn’t any time to be nostalgic and think about her home state of Connecticut, nor Louisiana, her home-away-from-home.

And there certainly was no time for the Oxford, Conn., native to think that she could be pitching in Tiger Park for the final time this weekend in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional that begins Friday.

All that took a back seat when Fico continued to prepare and focus only on helping the 10th-ranked Tigers get back to the Women’s College World Series for a second consecutive season.

While LSU coach Beth Torina still hadn’t decided if Fico would get the ball for the Tigers’ opener against Central Connecticut State at 6 p.m., she was certain about one thing: Fico will get plenty of work in the three-day, double-elimination tournament.

Top-seeded LSU (40-14) and No. 4-seeded Central Connecticut (35-13) will meet after second-seeded UL-Lafayette (43-13) and third-seeded Northwestern State (40-13) open the tournament at 3 p.m.

Whenever she does enter the circle, Fico (24-11, 2.35 ERA) said her four-year career with the Tigers won’t be on her mind because they have some work to do to return to Oklahoma City and the WCWS.

“I try not to think about it like that,” she said of her Tiger Park swan song. “I love this place … Tiger Park is my favorite place, and Baton Rouge is my home away from home. So it’s something special to me.

“I’m just going to think about it like any other game here. It’s postseason, and it’s what we’ve worked for all year. Just being in this environment again is something that’s really special and something I’m looking forward to.”

Fico has another reason to be excited about possibly pitching against Central Connecticut State. The school is located in New Britain, just about an hour’s drive from her hometown.

But to her, the opponent hardly matters.

“I want the ball every single game,” said Fico, the Tigers’ No. 1 pitcher in a rotation that also includes juniors Meghan Patterson and Ashley Czechner. “It doesn’t matter who I’m playing against, I approach it the same way. Of course, I want the ball, especially in the postseason, but I’m more than willing to play the role they ask of me.”

Torina may be counting on Fico to help the Tigers end their first three-game losing streak of the season after they dropped their final two Southeastern Conference games to Georgia and then lost to the Bulldogs in the conference tournament.

“We put in a lot of good work this past week,” Torina said. “We got back from the (SEC) tournament early, unfortunately, but we used it to our benefit and got some really good work in.

“It was fantastic. … They were enthusiastic, they worked hard, they got better,” she said. “I think we were back to our old selves. I think they get caught up in final exams and it really stresses them out. It’s such a relief getting to this week, where they just get to play softball and enjoy it.”

The best part of it, Fico said, is getting to play in Tiger Park after having to go on the road for the last two NCAA regionals.

Also, LSU will be playing at home for the first time since sweeping a three-game SEC series April 25-27 from reigning WCWS champion Alabama, which drew a program-record 7,799 fans with two single-game marks.

“It’s great that we’re able to host regionals this year, it’s something the team hasn’t been able to do since my freshman season,” Fico said. “So we’re looking forward to it. Anytime we can give our fans a chance to watch us it’s awesome because we have such great fans.”

That alone, she said, could help the Tigers get past their three-game skid at just the right time.

“At this time, everyone has the same record,” Fico said. “We’re all 0-0, so we’re looking to turn things around.

“We’ve worked for this all season long. We’ve been tested, we’ve been resilient and we’ve fought back. We have prepared ourselves for this, we’re ready for this.”