Pitchers, top three hitters shine in LSU softball team’s sweep

LSU’s softball team closed out its March schedule in fine fashion Saturday, doing what the Tigers have done so often this season — notching shutouts.

They grabbed two more in a doubleheader sweep of Samford in front of 1,373 fans at Tiger Park.

LSU (30-7) has now collected 15 shutout victories this season, getting solid efforts from pitchers Rachele Fico, Ashley Czechner and Meghan Patterson. The trio limited the Bulldogs (10-20) to five hits and racked up a combined 18 strikeouts versus three walks.

LSU’s offense pounded out 15 hits Saturday, and the three hitters at the top of the lineup — A.J. Andrews, Jacee Blades and Bianka Bell — combined to go 8-for-18 with five runs and eight of the team’s 10 RBIs.

“We did a good job, especially in the second game, of doing some detailed things and taking some extra bases,” coach Beth Torina said. “We were really putting our runners in good spots in scoring position. Our speed was a lot better today. Our slappers put the ball on the ground, and we were able to get on base a little bit more. They had a much better day which enabled us to do a lot more things on the bases.”

In the first game, Samford loaded the bases against Fico after a pair of soft singles and a walk, but Fico kept the Bulldogs off the board after she forced a popup.

The Tigers scored once in the second and once in the fourth, then made it 3-0 in the fifth, when Allison Falcon drew a leadoff walk, raced over to third base after two ground balls, then came home on a wild pitch.

LSU added an insurance run in the sixth inning to cap its 4-0 victory. Andrews walked, stole second and crossed the plate on Bell’s RBI single through the left side.

“I just love when people in front of me make things happen and give me the opportunities to do things like that,” Bell said. “I thank A.J. (Andrews), Jacee (Blades) or whoever is in front of me for getting me up there with runners on-base. I try to stay relaxed and make things happen.”

Fico (17-5) found her groove and completed her 10th shutout of the season.

Andrews led off the second game with a single and scored all the way from first base on a throwing error for the game’s first run.

LSU exploded for four runs in the second inning. Dylan Supak, Simone Heyward and Andrews set the table for the Tigers with a walk, a single and hit batter to fill the bases. After Blades hit an infield single to extend the lead 2-0, Bell smacked a bases-clearing double down the left-field line, giving LSU a 5-0 lead.

The Tigers tacked on single runs during the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to complete the 8-0 victory. Allison Falcon, Andrews and Kellsi Kloss provided the RBI singles.

“They all did a great job of not only getting on base, but driving in runs when the opportunities presented themselves,” Torina said. “They did some things really well that we have worked on. They didn’t try to do too much, and they were able to make adjustments when they needed to. They were able to come up and get some confidence back, too.”

Czechner (8-0) equaled a season high with eight strikeouts and five innings of three-hit ball. The junior right-hander hasn’t allowed a run in three of her last four starts. She gave way to Patterson, who struck out the side in the sixth inning.

“Everything was working pretty well today except my rise,” Czechner said. “My riseball was a little off. I was definitely trying to mix in pitches that I don’t really use as much such as (my) changeup. I was focusing on making things move, and my game plan was to stay on the corners as much as I could.”

LSU embarks on a nine-game road swing to begin April. The Tigers visit Florida State for a doubleheader at 4 p.m. Wednesday.