A simple glance at the box scores will tell you LSU's Rachele Fico pitched two games against UL-Lafayette this past weekend and lost them both. They were a pair of defeats that ended the Tigers' season in the NCAA Tournament Regionals, just a year after LSU reached the College World Series for the first time since 2004.
The truth of the matter is no description could ever be more misleading or simply inaccurate than "losing pitcher". The fact Fico could even get the ball over the plate is amazing. Firing a pair of two-hitters against an explosive Ragin' Cajuns lineup? Nothing short of a minor miracle.
As Fico grunted and launched strikes to UL-Lafayette batters Saturday and Sunday afternoon, she knew her father's longtime battle with cancer was likely nearing an unhappy end. Ralph Fico had already lived longer than perhaps he had even expected. Years ago when LSU signed Rachele, Ralph told then head coach Yvette Girouard that it was unlikely he'd make it to the end of his daughter's collegiate career. But somehow, there he was for "Senior Day" this season and shared that special moment with his little girl.
However as LSU geared up for Saturday's contest against UL-Lafayette, word began circulating in Tiger Park that Ralph's situation was taking a turn for the worst. The talk was he could possibly die at any moment. Nobody perhaps really knew the truth, besides the young lady that bravely marched into the circle trying to win a softball game for the Purple & Gold. The Cajuns hit Fico hard early for a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning. All things considered, no one would've blamed #37 for completely coming unglued and getting blasted 10-0. How do you focus on getting outs when your father could be near death?
But in true Rachele Fico form she would fire back. Those early punches would quickly be returned with a flurry. The Cajuns swung and missed to the tune of seven strikeouts. Donuts went up of the scoreboard for five straight innings after that rocky LSU start. However the lack of run support, unfortunately another Fico staple throughout her LSU career, doomed the Tigers against tough UL-Lafayette hurler Jordan Wallace. The Cajuns tacked on a solo home run in the 7th inning for insurance and won 3-0.
LSU head coach Beth Torina gave Fico the opportunity to leave the park and visit her father that evening after the defeat. Instead, the senior stood in the dugout with her Tiger teammates and cheered them on Saturday during an 11-0 elimination laugher against Central Connecticut State. There would be at least one more contest against the rival Cajuns Sunday, and Fico would be handed the ball again. LSU would actually need to beat the Cajuns twice to advance to the Super Regionals.
The sun blazed brightly near the Mississippi River and it
was a beautiful, humid day for softball. But Rachele Fico was again battling darkness on the
inside. Ralph had made it through the night, but would he see the end of the
On the field, another a tough beginning for Fico. A leadoff double and then a hard grounder for an error between the shortstop's legs quickly led to a 1-0 LSU deficit. But "The Beast From The East" gave Tiger Park one final, fantastic performance. UL-Lafayette wouldn't score again, as Fico mowed down 21 of the 24 Cajun batters she faced. Unfortunately, LSU never dented the scoreboard. The Tigers would load up the bases in the 7th and final inning with just one out. But a first pitch pop up and strike out would soon follow.
Final score – UL-Lafayette 1, LSU 0.
After the game LSU's Bianka Bell and AJ Andrews vehemently apologized for not scratching any runs across the plate for their brave, relentless pitcher. She certainly deserved much better, they said. Bell sobbed and choked back tears. The Tigers definitely tried their best and it just wasn't meant to be. The Cajuns were simply better. Dwelling in guilt, LSU should not.
After tip-toeing around questions concerning Fico's performance through such enormous personal struggles, Coach Torina could no longer keep her emotions beneath the surface. During that same press conference, Torina broke into tears when speaking of her pitcher's incredible drive and perseverance. She would temporarily leave the podium to contain herself, before returning again. Torina's voice still cracked, tears filled her eyes. A very special Tiger's career, had now come to an end. Torina would then drive Fico to her father's hospital and stay with her through the night.
In a perfect world, perhaps Fico and LSU would've beaten the Cajuns twice and eventually reached The College World Series again. Maybe they could've won a national championship. But perhaps that wasn't God's plan. Maybe it was right for Fico to immediately drive to New Orleans Sunday evening. Because another game against the Cajuns and a possible LSU celebration would've robbed Rachele of spending precious extra time with her father that evening. And those moments would end up being the final hours of his life.
"The world lost a fighter, but heaven gained an angel. R.I.P. Daddy 5-20-13" – was the message thousands of LSU fans read on Twitter Monday morning. Ralph Fico's long, taxing battle had come to an end.
In one incredibly painful weekend the LSU All-American would lose her father and see her brilliant college career come to a crashing halt. That's an unspeakable amount of misery for one 21-year old to endure. But something tells me Fico will return stronger than ever. And she'll dedicate a soon outstanding professional career with the Akron Racers (she was the #1 overall pick in the National Pro Fastpitch draft) to the memory of her proud father.
During my career at WAFB-TV, I've been privileged to cover a long list of outstanding LSU female athletes – Kimberlyn Duncan, Seimone Augustus, Britni Sneed, Trena Peel, Sylvia Fowles, Susan Jackson, Mo Isom, Ashleigh-Clare Kearney and Temeka Johnson all immediately come to mind. But after what we witnessed this past weekend, Rachele Fico deserves her own special category.
She lost on the field and suffered the ultimate loss off it. And through it all Fico performed at the highest level, displaying staggering focus and grit for one Louisiana State University. Tiger fans should gleam with pride to call this young lady one of their own.
I for one, was truly touched. I hope you were too.
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