LSU softball team drops Penn State, Michigan

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The No. 11-ranked LSU softball team collected two victories over Big Ten opponents Saturday at the Diamond Nine Citrus Classic, notching a 6-5 win over Penn State in the morning, followed by a 14-6 win over No. 14 Michigan.

LSU (17-3) is off to its best 20-game start since the 2007 Tigers went 19-1.

Saturday’s win over Michigan was the program’s second in seven meetings with the Wolverines, and the first since a 3-2 victory in 13 innings at the 2004 Women’s College World Series.

“It was a great performance, and a big win for us against a quality opponent like Michigan,” coach Beth Torina said. “I was excited to see our offense come out, be so aggressive and do that type of damage. Our players were very selfless. They swung big, swung hard and also did their jobs of taking their walks and moving their runners when those opportunities presented themselves.”

LSU’s offense posted season highs against Michigan, with 14 runs and 17 hits.

Six players had multi-hit performances for the Tigers. They were led by leadoff hitter A.J. Andrews, who went 4-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. Her four hits were a career high.

Allison Falcon went 3-for-3 with two RBIs.

Rikki Alcaraz homered and Kellsi Kloss hit a seventh-inning grand slam, giving her a career-high six RBIs. They were the most by a LSU player since Vanessa Soto had six RBIs against Centenary on Feb. 10, 2007.

“I thought we were relaxed as a unit after coach (Torina) challenged us after the Penn State game,” Kloss said. “We knew we were struggling a little bit because we were being passive. That’s not who we are as players. Our goal was to be aggressive, especially early in the count. I thought we did a good job of sticking with that plan for the entire game.”

Down 2-0 in the top of the third inning, LSU sent 12 batters to the plate and rallied for six runs, highlighted by RBI singles from Jacee Blades, Bianka Bell and Tammy Wray, as well as a Falcon squeeze bunt.

“As soon as we were able to get a couple of hits, it sets the tone immediately,” Kloss said. “We’re very explosive and passing the bat has been our motto. Once that bat keeps getting passed and those hits come in bunches, we gain our confidence. That’s really who we are and who we’ve been this season.”

Later, in the sixth, Rikki Alcaraz crushed a two-run homer — the first of her career — to give the Tigers a 10-2 lead.

Michigan extended the game with four runs in the bottom of the sixth.

LSU added four more runs in the seventh.

Rachele Fico (10-2) had 10 strikeouts in a complete-game effort.

“Rachele didn’t have her best stuff, but she gutted it out,” Torina said. “That’s the sign of a great pitcher to fight through it and find a way to win. The key for her was she kept focusing on what was working for her instead of what wasn’t.”

In the Tigers’ first game, a 6-5 win over Penn State, their top three hitters in the batting order — Andrews, Blades and Falcon — had two hits apiece.

LSU had a five-run lead after four innings before the Nittany Lions rallied for four runs in the top of the fifth on a grand slam by Cassidy Bell.

The Nittany Lions put two runners on-base during the seventh inning, but starting pitcher Ashley Czechner locked up the one-run victory with a strikeout.

Czechner won her fourth straight decision.

LSU finishes the Diamond Nine Citrus Classic at 10:15 a.m. Sunday against No. 15 Louisville.