LSU softball thrives with three: Rachele Fico, Meghan Patterson, Ashley Czechner

Fico is Tigers’ pitching star, but team also thrives with Patterson, Czechner

In a perfect world, LSU softball coach Beth Torina would have four pitchers to choose from for any situation that arises during a three-game Southeastern Conference series.

But in Torina’s case, three is enough.

In fact, it’s plenty enough for her 13th-ranked Tigers.

Of course, All-American Rachele Fico is LSU’s ace in the circle. But she has plenty of help in second and third starters Meghan Patterson and Ashley Czechner, a pair of juniors who are interchangeable in Torina’s eyes when Fico needs a rest.

“Typically, most teams have four (pitchers), so it’s pretty rare to have three,” said Torina, a star pitcher at the University of Florida from 1997-2000. “But we’re pretty fortunate here to have three that are so talented, so you don’t have to be as deep. You could probably survive with just two, but I wouldn’t want to try it.”

LSU’s pitching staff was a huge part of the Tigers’ success last year, when they advanced to the College Softball World Series in Torina’s first season.

Despite losing Brittany Mack, who teamed with Fico to form a solid 1-2 combination, LSU (31-7, 7-2) is already eyeing another trip to the national tournament with Fico, Patterson and Czechner leading the way.

The Tigers begin a three-game series at Arkansas (25-13, 3-6) at 6 p.m. Friday. They’ll meet again Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. both days.

While the hard-throwing Fico is the go-to pitcher with an 18-5 record and 1.83 ERA in 20 starts, Patterson and Czechner have certainly done their jobs with a 13-2 mark between them.

Czechner, a transfer from Maryland and Chattanooga State Community College, is 8-0 with a 2.15 ERA, while Patterson, a graduate of Mount Carmel in New Orleans, is 5-2 with a 1.69 ERA.

“Meghan really earned her time behind Fico and Mack the last two years and is an awesome kid,” said Torina. “Ashley is a highly competitive player. She has done a lot of things and has been in some big-time pressure situations in her career. She can get the job done.”

The thing Torina likes about her two backups is they’re different than Fico.

In a three-game SEC series, she can start Fico and come back the next day with Patterson or Czechner. For the series finale, she can go back to Fico and have one of the other two — or both, if needed — ready for relief duty.

Of course, either can pitch midweek games if Fico needs a day off.

Patterson and Czechner know their role, and they’re fine with it.

“When you play three games in three days against the same team, it’s hard to win all three,” Patterson said. “Having all three of us helps the team have a better chance of winning them all.

“I like being in that role, knowing that I’m able to help out … and I’m comfortable with it.”

She has two shutouts in her 10 starts and has allowed just 39 hits while collecting 54 of her 58 strikeouts in 60 innings as a starter.

While Fico and Patterson have been the constants for three seasons, Czechner, a South Carolina native, is the newcomer to the group.

She joined the LSU pitching staff after leading Chattanooga State to the national junior college title, going 37-4 with an 0.72 ERA. Czechner had 370 strikeouts in earning NJCAA Pitcher of the Year and All-America honors.

Starting a game, or entering one in any situation, is no problem to the 5-foot-10 Czechner, who is three inches taller than Fico and Patterson.

Czechner was especially effective in a three-game stretch in mid-March.

She pitched 19 innings and gave up just four hits and two runs with her best performance coming March 23 in a sterling seven-inning, one-hit shutout of South Carolina, whose campus is about a three-hour drive from her home.

“I would definitely say that I’ve grown up most of my career thriving under pressure,” said Czechner. “My mom said I live for the competition, and I think I perform very well under pressure.

“I know I can get the job done whether I’m coming in with the bases loaded, or basically any situation.”

Which is a comforting thought for Torina, no matter who she calls on.

“Ashley has really good spin and movement and can do some different things with the ball,” she said. “Meghan can throw any pitch on any count and can get the ball down in the zone. She also has a good change of speed.”

In that case, three is enough for the Tigers.