STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State opened its fall home season with a sweep of Shorter on Sunday afternoon, taking game one 3-0 and the second 7-6. A 14-strikeout performance by senior pitcher Alison Owen helped lead the team to a victory in the opener while game two had the Bulldogs stage a three-run comeback for the victory as junior Ashley Phillips drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the fifth.
Phillips reached base in all seven plate appearances during the doubleheader while leadoff batter Loryn Nichols reached in six of seven.
Owen went all seven innings of the opener, scattering three hits and walking two. She struck out two or more in six of her seven frames. Shorter’s Maddie Bray also went all seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks. She also fanned one.
In the second contest, MSU’s Shana Sherrod tossed four innings before Alexis Silkwood came in for the final three frames. The pair combined to surrender eight hits and strike out four. Shorter starter Christina Ezell tossed four-and-a-third frames and yielded six walks and six hits while fanning three. Kalei Kimbrell came in for the final five outs.
In the opener, Owen struck out the side in the top of the first and the Bulldogs got a key two-out hit from Heidi Shape to take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the frame. An error, fielder’s choice and walk loaded the bases for MSU, but a double play left runners on second and third with two down for Shape. She sent a ball into shallow right field that the second baseman dove for but could not catch, allowing Julia Echols and Sam Lenahan to score. A strikeout ended the threat.
In the top of the third, solid Bulldog defense kept Shorter off the board. The Hawks recorded their first hit on a bunt single by Kendall Johnson, but Kayla Cooper’s bunt resulted in Johnson getting thrown out at second. Cooper was then caught stealing to close the frame.
Shorter had a pair of base runners in the top of the fourth, but was held off the scoreboard. Felicia Morris led off with a bunt single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Paige Rowland drew a one-out walk, but Owen rebounded with a pair of strikeouts to end the threat.
Both teams went quietly until the top of the sixth, when Shorter got a leadoff double from Cooper. After a pop out to freshman Caroline Seitz at shortstop, Jackie Castaneda was hit by a pitch. Owen settled down, fanning Rowland and pinch hitter Gracie Ayers to keep the Hawks off the scoreboard.
After the defensive hold, Mississippi State added its final run of the game in the bottom of the sixth. Seitz ripped a one-out triple to the gap in right center and scored on a groundout to the second baseman by freshman Mackenzie Toler.
Owen retired the Hawks in order in the top of the seventh to seal the victory.
In game two, Morris hit a one-out double in the top of the first, but Sherrod bounced back with a groundout and strikeout to end the threat.
The Bulldogs again wasted little time scoring, going ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the first with two unearned runs. Nichols and Phillips led off with consecutive walks. A pop out and sacrifice bunt moved the pair up a base before Seitz reached on a throwing error by the third baseman that allowed Nichols to score. Logan Foulks followed with a bunt single that plated Phillips for the two-run advantage.
The Hawks broke the scoreless drought in the top of the second with five runs. A fielder’s choice from Ezell drove in Ericka Bynum, who doubled to start the inning. A Johnson single to right and misplay by Seitz at shortstop on the relay throw evened the game as Ezell scored. Cooper singled to right to plate Johnson and put Shorter ahead 3-2 before Morris made it a 5-2 advantage with a two-run home run.
MSU got two runs back in the bottom of the third to make it a 5-4 deficit. Toler led off with a solo home run to left center. With one out, Foulks reached second on a dropped fly ball by the left fielder. Shape walked and, after a strikeout, Echols reached on a fielder’s choice as the Shorter shortstop tried to get the force at second on Shape, but threw the ball into right field, allowing Foulks to score. A groundout ended the threat.
In the top of the fourth, Shorter answered back with a run on an RBI single up the middle from Johnson to make it a 6-4 advantage.
Mississippi State again responded, evening the score in the bottom of the frame. Phillips was hit by a pitch to start the rally and scored on a Toler single up the middle. Pinch runner Katie Anne Bailey entered for Toler and stole second base. Foulks knotted the game with a single through the left side that plated Bailey before a fly out ended the threat.
The Bulldogs regained the lead at 7-6 in the bottom of the fifth on a single to right center from Phillips that plated Kayla Winkfield, who walked to open the frame.
Silkwood retired all nine batters she faced to preserve the victory and earn the win.
The Bulldogs finish their fall season next week with two doubleheaders. MSU faces Wallace State Community College at 1 p.m. Saturday and takes on Itawamba Community College at 3 p.m. Sunday.