From LSU Sports
BATON ROUGE – Fresh off the program's third Women's College World Series appearance, the No. 10 LSU softball team plays host to a challenging opening weekend to start the 2013 season as No. 22 North Carolina along with Hampton, Purdue and Tulsa visit the capital city for the Tiger Classic at Tiger Park.
LSU squares off with North Carolina [4:30 p.m.] and Purdue [7 p.m.] on Friday followed by Saturday tilts with Tulsa [5 p.m.] and Hampton [7:30 p.m.]. The Tigers wrap up the three-day tournament with a Sunday match-up versus North Carolina [Noon].
Both North Carolina and Tulsa qualified for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, while Hampton is coached by former Tiger All-American Trena Peel.
"We're so excited about opening weekend," head coach Beth Torina said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge, and we're going to have to hit the ground running. There's no doubt that we're going to learn a lot about our team immediately. All four of these programs we're facing are quality, and we're really looking forward to it."
LSU has 12 letterwinners returning from its 2012 WCWS squad sparked by NFCA All-America First-Team hurler Rachele Fico and All-SEC Freshman pick A.J. Andrews.
Fico has already collected 2013 All-SEC Preseason Team accolades and was named to the 2013 USA Softball Top 50 Watch List. Her stifling 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts last season ranked fourth and fifth in the nation, respectively.
Fico turned in a memorable postseason where she recorded four wins en route to NCAA College Station Regional and NCAA Columbia Super Regional MVP honors. The right-hander heads into her senior season 35 Ks away from becoming the fifth pitcher in program history to reach 600 career strikeouts.
Joining Fico in the circle is Meghan Patterson and Ashley Czechner. Over her first two seasons, Patterson has produced a 10-1 mark and racked up 132 strikeouts over 92.0 innings of work. Czechner is coming off a national championship season at Chattanooga State where she was named the NJCAA's Pitcher of the Year on the junior college level.
"I don't have to say much about Rachele," Torina said. "She leads this program on and off the field. She's an amazing competitor. I think her and along with our other pitchers on staff will do a really nice job for us on the mound."
Andrews was second on the team in runs scored primarily from the leadoff spot. She also swiped a team-high 15 stolen bases and provided one of the most memorable moments of the season when she crossed the plate for the game's only run on an infield sacrifice fly versus South Florida at the WCWS.
Simone Heyward, a 2011 All-SEC Freshman-Team selection, joins Andrews to make up one of the nation's quickest outfields. She is looking to build on a memorable 2012 NCAA postseason where she scored the game's only run during LSU's 1-0 walk-off win over Texas State and blasted a three-run double in the rubber game of the NCAA Columbia Super Regional to erase a 1-0 deficit at No. 9 Missouri.
LSU's offense also brings back Allison Falcon, who was second on the team in batting average, home runs and RBIs last season. She platted what proved to be the game-winning run on a RBI-single during the Tigers 3-2 win over eventual national champion Alabama and equaled her career-high with three RBIs as part of a 2-for-3 effort as LSU notched a 6-1 win over No. 9 Missouri to open the NCAA Columbia Super Regional.
Tammy Wray has been in the starting lineup for all but only 11 games over her first two seasons with the Purple and Gold. She will look bounce back and regain her offensive form from her freshman campaign. The New York native cranked eight homers along with 33 RBIs in 2011.
LSU will welcome six newcomers into the fold sparked by Bianka Bell, Sandra Simmons and Hailey Smith. The trio all were Top 100 recruits ranked by ESPN. Bell also garnered 2012 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year and was an NFCA High School All-America First-Team honoree.
"We have some very talented freshmen in Bell, Simmons and Smith," Torina said. "They're very aggressive hitters and very aggressive players. I feel these three are very capable of setting the tone for our offense and bringing our lineup a different mentality."
Every game of the Tiger Classic will have live stats available inside the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net/live. 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. KLSU 91.1 FM will carry Friday's Purdue and Saturday's Tulsa games live.
The Tiger Park Ticket Office will open one hour prior to the first game of each day. Fans can purchase tickets on-site starting at $5 for adult general admission and $3 for youth ages 3-12. Season tickets are on-sale for $75 and additional ticket information is available at www.LSUtix.net.