The LSU softball team rode the right-arm of Rachele Fico as the junior hurler compiled her seventh shutout of the season during a 4-0 win over Mississippi State Sunday at Tiger Park.
LSU (19-8, 4-1 SEC) swept the weekend series from the Bulldogs (17-12, 3-7 SEC) and moved its winning streak to 20 consecutive games in the all-time series dating back to the 2005 season.
Lauren Houston paced the LSU offense with a 2-for-3 effort at the plate, while Rikki Alcaraz scored two runs. Ashley Applegate and Heidi Pizer picked up the RBIs for the Tigers.
"I couldn't be happier about the entire weekend," head coach Beth Torina said. "To be able to do it all short-handed, I thought it was a really, really great team effort for us. I thought a lot of people stepped up, a lot of people filled in. I'm really proud of how they responded to that. They didn't let it affect them or get them down. They just came out and did the best we could with who we had."
Fico tossed a three-hitter and improved to 9-4 on the season. The Oxford, Conn., native equaled a season-high and issued six walks versus two strikeouts.
Stephanie Becker fell to 9-5 after she gave up three runs, one earned, on three hits in her 3.2 innings of work. She also allowed four walks against three Ks.
"This is huge for our team," Fico said. "We really needed the sweep this weekend, and we did just that. When we have the opportunity to come in and not only win a series but sweep a series, we really need to capitalize on that because if we're looking to win an SEC conference title, we need to sweep teams when we have that opportunity."
The Tigers used a two-out rally to dent the scoreboard first during the second inning. Alcaraz coaxed a four-pitch walk, and Houston kept the frame alive with her hustle on an infield single deep in the hole at shortstop. That set up Tammy Wray, who reached on a fielding error by Becker. The ball squirted away from Becker towards the first base line. Becker and Wray collided which allowed Alcaraz to sprint across home plate from second base to place LSU ahead 1-0.
LSU struck for two additional runs in the fourth inning. Pinch hitter Ashleigh Kuhn ripped a leadoff single to right field and advanced to second base after a one-out Alcaraz walk. Once again, Houston legged out an infield single to fill the bases. Two batters later, Heidi Pizer notched a RBI walk followed by a fielding error by MSU shortstop Erin Nesbit to make it 3-0.
"When you have the opportunity, you have to jump on it, especially in SEC play when those opportunities get pretty rare," Pizer said. "So to capitalize on those mistakes, base runners, errors, and passed balls – like we did this weekend – was really, really important for us."
LSU manufactured another run during the sixth inning. Wray worked her way to a one-out free pass. Pinch runner Alex Boulet raced her way into second base on a bang-bang fielder's choice play and stole third base before coming around to score on an Ashley Applegate ground ball for the 4-0 final margin.
Mississippi State placed runners on-base during six of the seven innings, but the Bulldogs stranded all nine runners. Fico was extremely tough and limited MSU to a 0-for-12 clip with runners on.
"When we started this season, we knew that our pitching staff was going to be the deal breaker – they were going to be who carried us throughout the year," Torina said. "I like some of the things that the offense is doing – they're showing some sparks. I think that we're getting some big defensive plays in key moments from people. So the whole team is a factor for sure."
LSU wraps up its season's long 10-game homestand Wednesday versus Georgia Tech with its inaugural "Pack the Park" contest. All tickets are $1, and the first 1,000 fans will receive a LSU softball roll banner.
First pitch for Wednesday's mid-week contest is on-tap for 6 p.m. with live video, live audio and live stats available inside the Geaux Zone on LSUsports.net. The game also will be carried live on Country Legends 104.9 FM in the Baton Rouge area with Patrick Wright and Kent Lowe set to call the action.
Fans also can follow every pitch of LSU softball this season via live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsu_softball on Twitter.
As part of Brittany Mack's "Geaux Play" initiative, LSU softball is encouraging fans to share the gift of sports with special needs children. Fans can donate new or gently used sports equipment during the remaining LSU softball home games at Tiger Park. For more information, visit LSUsports.net/geauxplay.
All items collected will be given directly to the Miracle League Association and six local schools that Mack will visit during the season. At LSU's series finale versus Ole Miss on April 22, Mack will invite all the children to the game as her special VIP guests for "Geaux Play" day at Tiger Park.
The Tiger Park Ticket Booth will open 90 minutes prior to first pitch. Fans can purchase tickets on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12. Tickets also are available online at www.LSUtix.net.
Season ticket holders will have their tickets scanned upon entrance to Tiger Park. The LSU Athletics Ticket Office urges season ticket holders to be cautious when separating their bar-coded tickets. The barcode must be attached to the ticket when arriving at the gate. If the barcode detaches, season ticket holders must stop by the LSU Athletics Ticket Office on the first floor of the Athletics/Administration Building for a reprint of their tickets.