When the LSU softball team split a midweek series at Florida last month, senior Brittany Mack and junior Rachele Fico combined to surrender only two runs on nine hits in 14-plus innings.
The Gators get another look at the Tigers when No. 3 seed Florida faces No. 6 seed LSU at 11 a.m. Thursday in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The question is, which LSU pitcher will they see?
LSU coach Beth Torina is comfortable enough with both battle-tested veterans to put either in the circle for the biggest of games. Florida will have to be ready for both.
“We don’t even know ourselves who’s pitching,” Mack said. “It will be a nice little surprise for both teams.”
As they look to put behind them five losses in their final six regular-season games, the Tigers (34-21, 15-13) hope the one-two punch of Fico and Mack will help them score some wins at the SEC tournament and build momentum heading into regionals next week.
LSU’s game against Florida (44-10, 21-7) is the first of the eight-team, single-elimination event at Rhoades Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Other action on the opening day has No. 2 seed Tennessee facing No. 7 seed Auburn at 1:30 p.m., No. 4 seed Georgia meeting No. 5 seed Kentucky at 4 p.m. and No. 8 seed Mississippi State taking on No. 1 seed Alabama at 7 p.m. Winners on day one meet in Friday’s semifinals. The championship game is Saturday night.
LSU lost its opener in the SEC tournament last year after beating Florida in the semifinals and advancing to the title game during the 2010 season.
“We’re going to show up and just play LSU softball,” Torina said. “We’re going to just try to do what we do, and that’s play defense and pitch and keep it to a low-scoring game. Then our offense will manufacture some runs, and we’ll find a way.”
The matchup Thursday with the Gators is a de facto rubber game from LSU’s split in Gainesville two weeks ago.
Mack (14-10, 2.48 ERA) threw a four-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory to close the midweek doubleheader. Fico (16-11, 0.99 ERA) was on the cusp of starting the day with an LSU win, but the Gators took a 2-1 win after Ensley Gammel’s solo homer in the seventh forced extra innings.
The Tigers still feel they should have had a sweep.
Alex Boulet appeared to have scored on a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning of the first game, but was called out after Florida coach Tim Walton argued the LSU runner had left third early and won the appeal.
Had the score stood, Fico likely would have had a two-run lead by the seventh.
“I think that’s going to motivate us a little bit. Have us out for blood a little bit,” LSU shortstop Juliana Santos said.
A point of emphasis will be containing Florida senior Michelle Moultrie, who Wednesday was named the SEC player of the year. Moultrie hit .395 in the regular season and scored a league-high 58 runs.
Four Tigers earn All-SEC
Fico and Mack were among four LSU players honored Wednesday as the SEC announced its annual softball awards.
Fico, the 2010 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year, earned second-team All-SEC recognition. The junior from Connecticut ranks fifth in the conference with 190 strikeouts and third in the nation with her 0.99 ERA.
Senior outfielder Ashley Langoni earned a spot on the nine-player SEC All-Defensive team.
Freshman outfielder A.J. Andrews was one of four outfielders on the Freshman All-SEC team. Andrews, who has made 40 starts, is batting .241 and has stolen 13 bases in 16 attempts.
Mack shared the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, becoming the first LSU softball player to win the honor.