LSU softball rallies to sweep series

Matt Dunaway
LSU celebrates their win over Kentucky. Photo by

For the second straight day, the No. 13 LSU softball team rallied during its last at-bat and posted a 3-2 comeback victory to earn a series sweep over No. 17 Kentucky in-front of 1,382 fans Sunday at Tiger Park.

In the process, LSU (23-5, 5-1 SEC) won its fifth straight game and has won nine of its last 11 outings to retain sole possession of first place in the SEC Western Division standings. The Wildcats (19-7, 2-4 SEC) were handed their first three-game losing streak of the season.

"We owed them something after getting swept there last year," head coach Beth Torina said. "It was exciting. I thought the team showed a lot of heart and a lot of guts to be able to come back. I thought the same kids stepped up again today from yesterday. The slappers (A.J. Andrews, Jacee Blades and Simone Heyward) and speed kids did their job. Rikki Alcaraz had another really good day. It was another great game that we had to fight back at the end to get."

Down 2-0 heading into the home-half of the sixth inning, Bianka Bell sparked the Tigers with a leadoff double into the right centerfield gap. Rikki Alcaraz followed with a RBI-single through the right side to draw LSU within a run at 2-1.

Sandra Simmons coaxed a five-pitch walk, while Simone Heyward was hit-by-a-pitch to load the bases. On the first pitch of the sequence, A.J. Andrews deposited the go-ahead, two-run single to shallow right field to vault the Tigers ahead by a 3-2 margin.

"Bianka is our spark. If she goes, we go. Whether she is swinging the bat well or not is really insignificant to what she does for this team emotionally. I thought A.J. really gutted it out again today. She isn't feeling 100 percent but was able to gut out the entire game for us. She did some really good things and played well today."

"It is definitely a big thing to rally," Andrews said. "We are a team that never gives up. Every time we get up to bat, we never think the game is over whether we are winning or down one or down six."

Ashley Czechner, making her first career SEC start, worked around a two-out error during the seventh inning to secure the 3-2 triumph. She improved to 6-0 on the season and surrendered two runs on two hits. The junior right-hander also collected two strikeouts versus one walk.

"In general, I think the last inning is always the toughest," Czechner said "We got those two quick outs. That was really important. After Bianka (Bell) made that throwing error, it wasn't that big of a deal. Nothing was hurt. I just knew we had to get the next one."

"Ashley did a really good job," Torina said. "She got better as the game went on. I was really impressed with her. She kept them off balance and was tough on them today."

UK's Kelsey Nunley was tagged with the loss and fell to 12-3 for the season. She was touched up for three runs on six hits and tallied three strikeouts against three walks.

The Wildcats were opportunistic and scored their two runs in the second inning. Ansley Smith battled back from a 0-2 hole and worked her way to an 11-pitch walk. She slid into second base safely and beat the throw by LSU third baseman Tammy Wray on Krystal Smith's bunt.

Three batters later, after the runners moved into scoring position, Maisie Steed chopped a single deep into the hole at second base. She hustled down the line and beat Allison Falcon's throw to the first-base bag. Krystal Smith sprinted home from second base and followed Ansley Smith scoring on the play to give Kentucky a 2-0 edge.

The Tigers were unable to cash in after loading the bases with no outs during the third inning. Andrews smacked a single to centerfield, Blades added a walk and Falcon was plunked. However, Bell ripped a hard ground ball to UK third baseman Krystal Smith, who turned the 5-2-3 double play. Alcaraz also grounded out to end the threat.

"Pretty much during the whole game, I tried to not think about that I was playing against Kentucky," Czechner said. "They are number 17 in the country and also, it was an SEC game. I tried focusing on my pitches, focusing on not hanging anything over the plate and working ahead in the counts. When they got those two runs, I was a little down, but I knew our offense would come back and pick me up."

LSU continues its 10-game homestand with a Tuesday twinbill versus Georgia Southern. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m., and game one will be carried live on Cox Sports Television with Lyn Rollins and Yvette Girouard set to call the action.