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From LSU Sports
BATON ROUGE - Rachele Fico continued her strong showing in SEC play and tossed a one-hitter fueled by nine strikeouts as the No. 13 LSU softball team registered a 7-1 victory over Kentucky Friday in the first game of three-game weekend set at Tiger Park.
LSU (21-5, 3-1 SEC) has won seven of its last nine outings and remained in sole possession of first place in the SEC Western Division standings. The Wildcats (19-5, 2-2 SEC) lost for only the second time over their last 13 outings going back to February 16.
In the process, the Tigers ended a three-game losing skid to Kentucky after being swept in Lexington to end the 2012 regular season.
"It was very important that we showed and answered back for the sweep from last year," head coach Beth Torina said. "It's not something we forgot about, and we used that to fuel our team all week. It's something that we used and talked about."
For Fico, she became the fourth pitcher in program history to surpass 700 career strikeouts. She joins former All-Americans Britni Sneed, Kristin Schmidt and Emily Turner on the prestigious list.
The victory enabled Fico to improve to 13-3 on the season. She was touched up for one run on one hit and totaled nine strikeouts against four walks en route to her third consecutive win to open SEC action.
"I didn't even realize that I was approaching that mark," Fico said. "It's an incredible honor to be able to wear that LSU jersey across my chest. Then to be amongst such great company of the former players who have helped build this program is really something special. I'm really blessed to be apart of this program, to be on a team like this and to be surrounded by players who work so hard all the time."
LSU's offense pounded out 10 hits sparked by a 3-for-3 effort by Simone Heyward at the bottom of the lineup. The three hits for Heyward were a career-high. A.J. Andrews, Sandra Simmons and Tammy Wray collected two RBIs apiece for the Tigers.
"This is probably one of my favorite offensive performances of the year because the kids truly bought into what we were asking them to do," Torina said. "They made adjustments and scored runs in different ways. I was just very impressed with them. I think it sets us up for the entire series, doing damage to someone like that early in the series gives us confidence for games two and three."
Kentucky jumped out to a 1-0 edge during the first inning. The Wildcats made the most of three walks issued by Fico, which included a RBI by Nikki Sagerman on a free pass. With the bases full, Fico regrouped and got Krystal Smith to strike out looking to keep the score at 1-0.
LSU fired back with some two-out magic in the second inning. Simmons battled back from a 0-2 count to draw a walk and crossed the plate with the equalizer on a towering RBI double from Wray that bounced off the right field fence. Lauren Houston kept the rally going and deposited a RBI single to left field to give LSU a 2-1 lead.
Fico settled into a groove and sat down 19 of the last 21 UK batters she faced. The Connecticut native only surrendered a hit-batter and a walk. At one point, the senior right-hander retired 16 straight from the second to the seventh inning. Her milestone 700th career strikeout came to start the seventh.
"It was good, but it wasn't her best day," Torina said. "She found a way to win, and I think in the first inning we didn't have some of the things that we thought we had. However, we were able to make adjustments from that point. She is just that good that she is able to win on her bad days. It's not that it was a bad day overall, but it just wasn't her best stuff."
"After the first inning, I had to settle down and stop giving up free passes," Fico said. "I just had to throw my game and trust my pitches a little bit more. I was being too careful in trying to spot things too much instead of just trusting my mechanics and throwing my game. After we got the first inning out of the way, I started feeling much better on the field. Our offense exploded for us. They've been swinging the bat so well, and they make my life so much easier."
The Tigers tacked on two more runs during the third inning. Allison Falcon, Bianka Bell and Kellsi Kloss loaded the bases after all three were hit-by-pitches. Simmons delivered a two-run double that landed over the head of UK left fielder Maisie Sneed to extend the LSU advantage to 4-1.
LSU added three more runs in the fourth inning. Kloss and Simmons connected singles, while pinch runner Alex Boulet stole a base in between to put runners on the corners. Wray kept the pressure on the Wildcats and executed a squeeze bunt to perfection to score Boulet.
Three batters later and after Heyward slapped her third single of the game, Andrews cleared the bases with a two-run double down the left field line for the final margin of 7-1.
"It is just all about readjusting and buying into the hitting plan," Wray said. "That is something that the coaches are always telling us. We trust the plan, we buy into the plan and eventually it will work. We don't try to hit both sides of the plate. We hit our strengths. Everybody has bought into that especially after we made the adjustment. That is when the momentum started going. It just worked out."
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.
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 celebrate Alumnae Day, and the first 500 fans also can pick up a commemorative lapel pin honoring the Tigers run to the 2012 Women's College World Series.