BY LUKE JOHNSON
Special to The Advocate
February 09, 2013
Interspersed with the usual assortment of gloves and uniforms in the LSU softball players’ lockers were remnants of LSU coach Beth Torina’s efforts to field a cohesive unit.
In one locker, a tiara sat where a hat might have. In sophomore infielder Allison Falcon’s space, a yellow sash with purple scripted “Miss Louisiana” was draped over a uniform.
After losing seven seniors from last season’s squad — which made a surprising run to the Women’s College World Series — Torina staged a murder mystery at a beauty pageant this offseason. There, her players jelled and got to know each other off the field.
“They all had to act it out and dress the part,” Torina said. “(Junior infielder) Tammy Wray was New York and came dressed as the Statue of Liberty. (Junior pitcher) Meghan Patterson was Miss Alaska, and she was in a fur coat and had blue hair.”
Chemistry is an important aspect of a Torina-led team. Her scrappy 2012 unit showed a lot of it, and Torina is out to prove LSU didn’t just catch lightning in a bottle on its way to Oklahoma City.
The second-year coach implemented a new motto for the 2013 team — “Rule the Day” — as a reminder that this year’s team is not yet entitled to anything.
“On paper, there were a lot of teams in the country that were more talented than we were (last year), that had more going for them,” Torina said. “But the fact that our team clearly came together, and did it with will, determination and their hearts, is something that was probably the biggest thing that we learned from the College World Series experience.
“That’s what this 2013 team is going to take away from that … understanding that 19 girls coming together to do something are capable of greatness.”
The returning contributors try to make Torina’s point to the newcomers.
“We talk about it all the time — how much fun the World Series was, how great it was to be there,” Falcon said. “So we try to instill in them how much harder we have to work to get back there.”
This team will have a decidedly different look than last year’s College World Series team, though.
Gone are key veterans Brittany Mack, Ashley Langoni and Juliana Santos. Mack tallied 16 wins last season, and Langoni and Santos accounted for more than a quarter of the team’s hits and half the team’s home runs in 2012.
But Torina sounded confident that her Tigers, while missing the experience from last year’s team, would be just fine from a talent standpoint — undoubtedly buoyed by the return of senior pitcher Rachele Fico.
Fico led the team with 20 wins last season, and could’ve piled up many more if not for an offense that finished near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in almost every statistical category.
Fico is on the watch list for the 2013 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award, college softball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. She finished her junior year with a 1.12 ERA and is just 35 strikeouts away from becoming the fifth pitcher in program history with 600 career strikeouts.
“I usually try not to pay attention to all of that,” Fico said. “All that matters to me is the end result for the team. I want to win. I want to make it as far as we can. Everything else usually falls into place with that.”
From what Fico has seen in practice, LSU could make a run similar to the one it made last year.
Fico said she’s had a little more trouble than usual making it through the Tigers’ lineup in practice, which is encouraging for Torina.
“She’s definitely had a tougher time getting them out,” Torina said. “The fact that we’re able to get something off of a pitcher with the ability of Fico gives us a lot of hope for our offense this season.”
Freshman infielder Bianka Bell figures to add some pop that LSU’s lineup sorely lacked last year. Bell, the No. 13 player in ESPN’s high school recruiting rankings, hit .731 with 11 home runs on her way to earning Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year honors last season.
The addition of Bell and others to go along with the experience from 2012’s postseason run has the Tigers eagerly anticipating their season opener Friday.
LSU begins with the Tiger Classic, a three-day event at Tiger Park that includes North Carolina, Tulsa, Purdue and Hampton.
LSU faces North Carolina at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
“The sky’s the limit for us,” Fico said. “There’s great chemistry between us all and I can’t wait to see how things fall in place.”