Rachele Fico's Perfect Game Conjures Memories Of Late Father
When pitcher Rachele Fico arrived at Parkway Bank Sports Complex on Saturday for a National Pro Fastpitch game between the Chicago Bandits and Aussie Peppers, she was not expecting what was about to take place.
"I was actually feeling myself struggling to lock in mentally during batting practice and I really had to try to focus," Fico told Softball America in a phone interview. "But I was able to turn it on in my warmup."
And turn it on Fico certainly did, as she went on to retire all 21 batters the Peppers sent to the plate on Saturday to record the first perfect game of her professional softball career. The 28-year-old Connecticut native threw just 73 pitches in Chicago's 5–0 win, which included 52 strikes and six strikeouts in the sparkling outing.
Fico, who allowed only two balls out of the infield in seven innings against the Aussie squad on Saturday, is just the third Bandit pitcher to toss a perfect game in the organization's history.
"It was a really special thing," said Fico, who still holds the national record for perfect games thrown by a high school pitcher with 26. "I'd never thrown one at the professional level before, so it was just a really cool moment and a really cool experience for me.
"Amanda Chidester behind the plate called an incredible game, and the defense was just so clutch behind me. There were a lot of balls put in play. It was a complete team effort."
Currently in the midst of her seventh season in the NPF, Fico has blossomed into one of the top pitchers in the league after twice being named a First Team All-American at LSU. As the No. 1 overall selection in the 2013 NPF Draft, she spent her first five seasons as a professional softball player with the now-defunct Akron Racers before joining the Bandits ahead of the 2018 season.
Last year saw Fico post the best numbers of her NPF career with a team-high seven wins and a 0.51 ERA. This season, she's not far behind those marks with a 7–3 record and a 1.86 ERA against some of the best hitters in the world.
"The NPF has taught me to be a lot more strategic and stronger in the mental part of the game," stated Fico, who is also an assistant coach for the University of Georgia's softball program. "I don't make things as complicated as I used to when I was younger. I'm more comfortable in my own skin now and in who I am as a player. I just trust my stuff more."
Though that comfort has come, in part, because of both the playing and coaching experiences she has accumulated since graduating from college, there's another source of peace that Fico possesses. That's the presence of her late father, Ralph, who passed away in 2013 just following Fico's senior season at LSU, after a decade-long battle with cancer.
"I think about him probably every game day," Fico said. "More specifically, I think about him during the national anthem when I'm starting (games in the circle). I trained with my dad five to six days a week growing up, so he really molded me into the player that I am now and he molded how I go about playing the game. There's a lot of him in me."
So when Fico calmly pitched her team to a victory and a series sweep on Saturday in perfect fashion, it's no surprise who she thought about after the final out was recorded.
"He is always in the back of my mind," Fico said. "He probably would have given me a really big hug and told me he was proud."