From LSU Sports
BATON ROUGE – The No. 13 LSU softball team used another stellar Rachele Fico pitching performance and a pair of timely two-out run producing hits from Rikki Alcaraz and Jacee Blades to come away with a 4-0 victory over South Carolina Friday as 1,156 fans gathered at Tiger Park for the series opener.
The Tigers (26-5, 6-1 SEC) extended their winning streak to eight games and have collected victories in 12 of their last 14 outings dating back to March 1. LSU also has won 14 consecutive decisions over the Gamecocks (17-10, 0-4 SEC) since 2008.
With the victory, LSU remains in sole possession of first place in the SEC Western Division standings. The Tigers have a one-game edge over Alabama, an 8-0 winner over Auburn earlier tonight.
Fico registered a three-hit shutout, her ninth of the season, to move to 16-3 for the season. The win also was the 70th career victory for Fico as she retired 13 of the final 14 hitters she faced. The lone hiccup was a two-out walk during the sixth inning. The senior right-hander recorded seven strikeouts versus two walks.
"I just take it for granted," head coach Beth Torina said. "I just think that's her job, and she does it every day. When we name the Players of the Game, I said Rikki (Alcaraz) and Jacee (Blades) because I just assume that Rachele did her job. But she is fantastic. We have learned to expect that from her. It's not easy what she does. She is a fantastic player and a special competitor. She is able to shut down any offense at any time."
South Carolina's best opportunity to score came in the second inning. The Gamecocks pieced together a Julie Sarratt walk followed by Shelby Gonzales single to left field. Fico regrouped by fanning Codee Yeske to end the threat and keep the score at 0-0.
"Some balls were just able to find a hole and were able to land. I don't think I was pitching well in the first inning," Fico said. "We were able to get the outs and able to shut them down when they got runners on-base. As the game went on, I think we got stronger. Our defense played well for us tonight. We just came out. The second time in our line-up, we were able to make adjustments hitting offensively. We put runs up on the board and gave ourselves a nice lead. That definitely helped with the momentum of the game."
LSU broke through with a two-spot during the fourth inning. Blades led off the frame with an infield single. Two batters later, she was traded spots with Bianka Bell after a fielder's choice. After strikeouts out in her first plate appearance, Alcaraz bounced back with in a big way with a two-run homer to straight-away centerfield. It was third dinger of the season.
"Rikki had a great day today," Torina said. "She's been doing some good things for us. She's been swinging well. I've been putting her in situations where she can be successful, and she is making herself successful in other situations as well. She did a great job of making the adjustment from one at-bat to the next. I think that was the thing I was most impressed about with her tonight."
"I know the first time I didn't have a really good at-bat, but the second time I knew I had to make an adjustment to the pitcher," Alcaraz said. "I didn't really pay attention to my home run. I just go up there and hit and do whatever I can do to help the team."
The Tigers added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth inning. Tammy Wray smacked a leadoff double down the left field line. With one out, Simone Heyward followed with a sharp single to left field to place runners on the corners. Heyward would steal second base, and Blades platted both runners by smacking a two-out single to left centerfield for the final margin of 4-0.
"Whoever is up, we feel like they are going to get the job done," Blades said. "We don't panic just because there are two outs. We know we are going to get ourselves out of it. When we are up there, we take one pitch at a time and try to get the job done. I love hitting it with two outs because when I am in the field, I can't stand when other teams score when you are almost out of the inning. I think we do a good job manufacturing runs with two outs."
Game two of the series is set for Saturday at 4 p.m., and the game will be carried live by Cox Sports Television with Lyn Rollins and retired LSU softball coach Yvette Girouard set to call the action. The game also will be broadcasted by the LSU Sports Radio Network on Country Legends 104.9 FM in Baton Rouge and can be accessed by Geaux Zone subscribers at www.LSUsports.net/live.
"I think we just have to stay with our plan," Torina said. "We have to get another solid pitching performance, and our offense has to find a way to score some runs. South Carolina is solid on all aspects. They swing it really well. Their pitchers are going to keep us off balance and do their best. We just have to continue to do our job and the same thing we've done."
Fans also can follow every pitch of LSU softball this season via live stats at www.LSUsports.net/livestats along with live in-game updates on LSU softball's social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsusoftball and @lsusoftball on Twitter.
The Tiger Park Ticket Office will open 90 prior to the first pitch. Fans can purchase tickets on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12.
LSU will play host to its "Dads and Daughters" event. For more information on how to sign up, visit www.LSUsports.net/dadsanddaughters. The first 500 fans will be able to add a LSU softball bat pen to their collection.