LSU turns back Alabama, 2-1, in second game of crucial series
When LSU right-hander Ashley Czechner arrived on campus, she was touted as a big-game pitcher.
“The more pressure she has,” coach Beth Tornia said, “the better she is.”
Friday night, as the Tigers faced No. 4 Alabama in front of 2,651 fans — the largest crowd in LSU softball history — there was no better time for the junior to live up to her billing.
She did just that Friday, limiting the Tide to one run on eight hits as the Tigers took the second game of the weekend series, 2-1.
“I think tonight, the fans were incredible,” Czechner said. “They were definitely a huge game-changer. The momentum shifts. They were loud and pumped up the entire night, so I knew we were going to win this game.”
The victory moved LSU (39-11, 14-6 Southeastern Conference) two games ahead of Alabama (40-9, 12-8) in the SEC West Division as the Crimson Tide remained winless in seven games at the new Tiger Park.
Contrasting Thursday’s contest — an eight-inning 3-2 win for the Tigers — both teams came out swinging Friday.
Alabama’s first two hitters singled, and the Tide loaded the bases in the first inning but couldn’t score.
LSU answered with two leadoff hits of its own from A.J. Andrews and Jacee Blades off Alabama starter Leslie Jury.
Allison Falcon later delivered a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Andrews to give LSU an early 1-0 lead.
The Tigers didn’t add any more runs in the first, but they struck again in the third.
Simone Heyward, Andrews and Blades all recorded singles to load the bases with nobody out, and Bianka Bell delivered a sacrifice fly to bring Heyward home, giving LSU a 2-0 advantage.
“A lot of that is our slappers being on base,” Torina said. “They did a good job of making things happen and putting the pressure on the defense. Having those guys on base, we feel really good we’re going to score a run somehow.”
Alabama continued to pepper Czechner throughout the night, sending 25 balls into play altogether. The Tide finally got on the board in the fourth inning when Danielle Richard lifted a solo home run that was nearly robbed by Blades in left field.
“Jacee almost made such an amazing play on that,” Czechner said. “I definitely tried to put that past me. I was almost relieved that I gave up a run in that sort of way, because I know that it was over with and it was done. I was just ready to pitch and throw as hard as I could.”
That was the only run Alabama managed. LSU was bolstered by its defense throughout the game; the Tigers committed no errors, and catcher Kellsi Kloss caught two runners trying to steal.
“I think that’s how you win big games, is by having really solid defense,” Torina said. “I thought we did that really well. There were so many scenarios when I thought our defense kept us right in the ballgame. I thought the defense was the key tonight.”
LSU will go for the series sweep at 1 p.m. Saturday.