Rachele Fico, LSU freshmen work late to topple Virginia, Memphis

“I was pretty confident they were going to  find a way. In the long run, being in  that spot and showing we can come back  from ... a deficit, and (being) down to our last out, will help us in the long run.” BETH TORINA, LSU softball coach

For the second time in as many days, the No. 10-ranked LSU softball team took two victories in the Purple and Gold Challenge at Tiger Park, finishing the night with a dramatic 5-4 win over Memphis.

In LSU’s first game of the evening, seasoned pitching and rookie bats led the way as topped Virginia 4-0.

“(The freshmen) make me understand how great this season is going to be,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “The future of this program is so bright with those guys in the lineup and all the things they’re able to do.”

Each of LSU’s four RBIs against Virginia came from freshmen, but Rachele Fico only needed one. The Tigers’ senior pitcher allowed three hits and one walk and had 11 strikeouts.

Entering the contest, LSU had outscored opponents 15-0 in the first inning. Fico extended the season-long first-inning shutout against Virginia, recording three outs on just six pitches.

The Cavaliers nearly got through the bottom of the first inning unscathed, but a throwing error on a dropped third strike extended the inning. LSU followed with a single and walk, loading the bases for freshman Sandra Simmons, who came through with a two-run single to left field.

In the third inning, freshman Bianka Bell hit her second home run in as many days — this one an opposite-field line drive that extended the Tigers’ lead to 3-0 through three innings. Bell also homered in Friday’s 7-2 win over Virginia.

Simmons later provided LSU an insurance run, notching her third RBI of the night in the sixth inning with another hard-hit single to left field, scoring pinch runner Alex Boulet from first base (Boulet had replaced junior Tammy Wray).

“(Simmons) has made a lot of things happen for us,” Torina said. “She puts the ball in play hard so she’s always going to make something happen.”

Fico shut out the Cavaliers down the stretch, retiring 12 straight batters before issuing a two-out walk and a single in the seventh inning. The Oxford, Conn., native earned her fifth win in as many tries and extended her scoreless innings pitched streak to 14 innings.

In the nightcap against Memphis, LSU again took an early lead. Junior pitcher Ashley Czechner posted a scoreless first inning, and LSU got on the board when Wray singled up the middle with two outs, bringing home sophomore A.J. Andrews from second base.

In the second inning, LSU loaded the bases for Andrews, who singled to right field to score senior catcher Lauren Houston. Jacee Blades followed with a sacrifice fly, allowing sophomore designated player Rikki Alcaraz to score from third, giving LSU a 3-0 lead through two innings.

Czechner ran into trouble in the fifth inning, giving up two runs on a line-drive triple to right-center off the bat of Memphis’ Morgan Mosby. With the tying run on third base and one out, Czechner induced a pop fly and a grounder to preserve LSU’s 3-2 lead.

After giving up a leadoff single in the sixth inning, Czechner was lifted in favor of junior pitcher Meghan Patterson. With runners on second and third, Memphis catcher Amber Lindahl doubled to left and Memphis took a 4-3 lead.

Fico entered with a runner on and one out and kept Memphis off the basepaths rest of the way.

“I was just trying to get outs,” Fico said. “I knew I had my team behind me, and we came through with it today.”

With runners at first and second and one out, Bell singled to right and Andrews scored to tie the game at 4. Then, with Wray at the plate, Blades raced home on a wild pitch to give LSU the game-clinching victory.

“I was pretty confident they were going to find a way,” Torina said. “In the long run, being in that spot and showing we can come back from ... a deficit, and (being) down to our last out, will help us in the long run.”

Memphis pitcher Ellen Roberts was saddled with the loss, and Fico (6-0) earned her second win of the day.