As her father lay dying in a hospital bed over an hour away in New Orleans, Oxford’s Rachele Fico still found the strength to pitch.
The former Masuk superstar and All-American pitcher at Louisiana State University locked herself into a two-day duel with Louisiana-Lafayette pitcher Jordan Wallace, trying to defy the odds and get her team back to the NCAA softball super regionals.
In two games, Fico allowed just two hits.
Wallace, however, was untouchable.
LSU lost to ULL 3-0 on Saturday and 1-0 on Sunday. Its season was over.
So was Fico’s career.
But she had no time to dwell on the end of her four-year run at LSU. Immediately after the game, LSU coach Beth Torina drove her star pitcher to New Orleans to see her dad.
Ralph Fico, who had been battling a form of endocrine cancer for 10 years but still went to great lengths to watch Rachele pitch, died Monday morning. He was 57.
Rachele announced the news Monday morning on Twitter and Instagram.
The world lost a fighter, but heaven gained an angel. R.I.P. Daddy 5-20-13 instagram.com/p/ZiNrLdAeq-/
— Rachele Fico (@supafic) May 20, 2013
Ralph, a tall, tanned and imposing, yet gentle man who seemed planted forever near the backstop at Rachele’s high school games, first took her to a lesson when she was 9.
Rachele had fallen in love with the sport while tagging along with her dad and older brother, Nick, to batting practices in Shelton. “That’s how it all started for me,” she told the Connecticut Post in 2008.
Over time, endless practice sessions in Oxford and travel tournaments across the country — “100 pitches a day for five or six days a week, 30,000 pitches a year,” he once estimated — Ralph fed his daughter’s passion for softball and was an enormous influence on her development into one of the most dominant pitchers Connecticut has ever seen.
At Masuk, Rachele Fico threw 95 shutouts, 47 no-hitters, 26 perfect games (a national high school record) and just eight earned runs in four years. She won four SWC titles and a pair of state championships.
There was some incredulity when the Connecticut kid decided to play for a perennial national power like LSU. Yet, Rachele — affectionately called ‘Rae’ by her doting father — was 78-43 with 792 career strikeouts.
Last year, she pitched LSU to the Women’s College World Series and was named the ninth All-American in LSU history. The Akron Racers took her No. 1 in the National Pro Fastpitch draft.
Meanwhile, the family arranged to get Ralph’s treatments in New Orleans, so he could continue to watch Rachele play. The disease finally took a fatal hold just as his prodigy’s career was about to end.
[Related: Fico touches them all (WAFB - Baton Rouge)]
“He’s my hero,” Rachele told ESPNW earlier this month. “He’s my motivation. He’s my inspiration. Every time I play, I play for him.”
To hear Torino describe it, Fico’s final, losing performances with her dad weighing heavily on her mind were the best of her life.
“She is one of the bravest people I know,” Torina said, who took a moment and continued with her voice choked with emotion after the 1-0 loss on Sunday. “She is an unbelievable competitor.”
“For that kid to go out there and pitch those two games the way she did and stay focused with her dad going through everything he’s going through, and he continues to fight. With her doing that knowing he is in such grave condition, I can’t imagine what that takes.
“She is such a special, special competitor. I sensed it the day I got here. The talent Rachele Fico brings to this program is such a small part of what she brings to this program. She is just a fantastic person, teammate… She’s the type of kid everybody would die to coach. She is just going to leave a mark on this program so different than what you see on the walls.”