Tigers open season with five games in three days in tournament
By LUKE JOHNSON
Special to The Advocate
February 14, 2013
The No. 10 LSU softball team will officially set off to prove last season wasn’t a fluke when it hosts the Tiger Classic to open the season this weekend in Tiger Park.
After last season’s unexpected run in the College World Series, LSU coach Beth Torina is excited to see how her team follows its success in this weekend’s five-game slate.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge, and we’re going to have to hit the ground running,” Torina said. “There’s no doubt that we’re going to learn a lot about our team immediately.”
“All four of these programs we’re facing are quality.”
The Tigers will play doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday, opening with No. 22 North Carolina at 4:30 p.m. and closing with North Carolina at noon Sunday.
LSU will also compete against Purdue, Tulsa and Hampton, which is coached by former LSU All-American Trena Peel, in the three-day tournament.
The pitching staff figures to again be the key for LSU’s success after dominating last season.
LSU hurlers posted a collective 1.58 ERA, the third-best mark in the Southeastern Conference.
Senior Rachele Fico will anchor the staff after notching a team-leading 20 wins and SEC-best 1.12 ERA last season.
“(Fico) does so many things well, it’ll take me an hour to list all of them for you,” Torina said.
Knowing she can count on Fico to perform, Torina sounded confident in her other two starters heading into the season, especially junior right-hander Meghan Patterson.
After waiting behind Fico and former LSU pitcher Brittany Mack, Patterson is getting her shot to show what she can do on a consistent basis.
“Meghan Patterson has truly waited her turn,” Torina said. “She’s so talented and deserves every inning she will pitch this year.”
Patterson has a 10-1 career record with 132 strikeouts in 92 innings pitched.
LSU fans will get their first glimpse at junior pitcher Ashley Czechner, who was the Junior College Pitcher of the Year for Chattanooga State last season.
Torina said Czechner, who finished last season with a 37-4 record, 370 strikeouts and a .72 ERA, is still something of an unknown because she hasn’t consistently faced top-tier competition yet. But Torina’s excited about her potential.
“She is a gamer,” Torina said. “I don’t think we know everything there is to know about Ashley Czechner yet.”
“I’d like to see what she’s capable of in competition, but I feel like she’s one of those fierce competitors that when the game’s on the line wants the ball.”
The pitchers will face a couple tough outs in North Carolina senior catcher Haleigh Dickey and junior outfielder Amy Nece.
Dickey smashed 12 homers last season — just one fewer than the Tigers combined to hit as a team — and knocked in 46 runs. Nece set the table for the Tarheels lineup, batting .353 near the top of the order.
The LSU lineup will feature a different look this season after the departures of seven seniors from the 2012 squad.
Freshmen Bianka Bell, Sandra Simmons and Hailey Smith — all top-100 recruits according to ESPN rankings — expect to add some pop to an LSU offense that was stagnant in stretches last season.
“They bring a lot of fearless mindset to us, and it’s contagious throughout the whole lineup,” Torina said of her freshman class.
The Tigers are also counting on the continued development of sophomore outfielder A.J. Andrews, a freshman All-SEC pick last season, and junior infielder Allison Falcon.
Falcon is the only returning player that hit multiple home runs last season, and Andrews led the team with 15 stolen bases.