STARKVILLE, Miss. – Two dominant pitching performances carried Mississippi State to a pair of opening-day victories as the Bulldogs downed Mississippi Valley State 8-0 in five innings and Northern Kentucky 12-1 in five innings on Friday afternoon.
Sophomore hurler Jacey Punches started the opener with a career-high nine strikeouts before giving way to freshman Alexis Silkwood in game two, who fanned three and allowed just one hit in her Mississippi State debut.
Leading the way on offense was senior Jessica Offutt, who scored four runs, drew two walks and drove in a run during the doubleheader. Junior Katie Gentle and senior Logan Foulks combined to drive in seven runs and draw two walks in the two games.
Patience at the plate was also a virtue as the Bulldogs drew a team single-game record 14 walks against Mississippi Valley State in the opener. For the doubleheader, MSU drew 18 walks and struck out just twice.
Punches (1-0) limited Mississippi Valley State to just one hit, a Natalia Covarrubias double, and a pair of walks. The Delta Devilettes’ Cassandra Rivera (0-1) was handed the loss after surrendering three runs on four hits and eight walks. Taliyah Waters recorded two outs and allowed five runs on five walks and one hit. Tenna Patterson faced one batter and gave up a walk.
In game two, Silkwood (1-0) tossed a one-hitter with a solo home run to Dee Dee Davis. She retired the first 10 batters she faced and did not walk a batter. NKU’s Alyssa Enrique (0-1) took the loss, giving up four runs on four hits and two walks in two innings. Paige McQueen threw one-and-a-third frames and allowed six runs on four hits and a pair of free passes. Alex Caudill came in for the final two outs and gave up a pair of unearned runs.
Through the first two innings of the season opener against the Delta Devilettes, MSU stranded five runners before breaking through for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third. The Bulldogs used a two-out rally and heads-up baserunning to take the one-run advantage. With two down, senior Sam Lenahan and freshman Mackenzie Toler drew consecutive walks to bring Gentle to the plate. Gentle sent a hard grounder back up the middle that Rivera could not handle. By the time Rivera threw to first, Gentle was safe and Lenahan had come around from second to score.
Punches gave up a one-out double to Covarrubias in the top of the fourth, but responded with consecutive strikeouts to end the frame.
The Bulldogs added to their lead with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth to go ahead 3-0. Offutt led off with a double, stole third base and came home on an error as the throw went into left field. Senior Heidi Shape followed with a walk and after a groundout and flyout, Lenahan tripled to right as Yasmine Battle dove but the ball got past her. Shape scooted home to take a three-run lead.
After sending down the Delta Devilettes in order in the top of the fifth, MSU tacked on five more runs in the bottom of the inning to end the contest due to the run rule. Junior Ashley Phillips was hit by a pitch to start the frame and stole second base. With one down, Offutt drew a walk before a sacrifice bunt from Shape put runners on second and third with two outs. Foulks delivered with a single through the left side to plate Phillips and Offutt to make it a 5-0 advantage. Consecutive walks to freshman Caroline Seitz and Lenahan loaded the bases for Toler, who drew a third-straight free pass to force in a run. Gentle followed with another walk for a 7-0 lead before Phillips ended the game with a free pass that forced in the final run.
In game two versus Northern Kentucky, Mississippi State wasted little time, taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. With one out and Shape on second, Foulks doubled off the base of the wall in right center to plate Shape. Foulks advanced to third on an error and scored on a wild pitch to make it a 2-0 MSU lead.
In the bottom of the second, the team pushed across two for a 4-0 lead. Junior Julia Echols started the frame with a single through the left side, stole second base and moved to third on a throwing error. Sophomore Loryn Nichols reached on a bunt single and classmate Kayla Winkfield drove in Echols with an infield single. Following a strikeout, a walk to Shape loaded the bases for Foulks, who hit a sacrifice fly to right.
Silkwood gave up her lone hit of the contest in the top of the fourth as Davis delivered a one-out solo home run to cut the Mississippi State lead to 4-1.
The Bulldogs answered immediately in the bottom of the fourth and broke the game open with eight runs to establish a 12-1 lead. Offutt led off reaching on a two-base error and came home on a double off the top of the wall in left center from Shape. Foulks followed with a double down the left-field line that drove in Shape for a five-run cushion. After a Seitz infield single, a Lenahan fielder’s choice delivered Foulks from third for a 7-1 lead. Toler walked and Echols singled up the middle to plate Lenahan. A squeeze bunt from Nichols brought in another run before Offutt drove in a run with a fielder’s choice. A single to right center from Shape drove in two before a groundout ended the inning.
Silkwood retired the Norse in order in the top of the fifth to seal the run-rule victory.
The Bulldogs return to action Saturday with a 12:30 p.m. CT rematch against Northern Kentucky and a 3 p.m. game versus Jacksonville State.
- Mississippi State improved to 13-10 in season-opening contests and owns a 13-5 mark in initial home contests since the MSU Softball Stadium opened in 1997.
- The Bulldogs improve to 25-1 against Mississippi Valley State and have won the last 17 meetings.
- MSU won its first-ever game against Northern Kentucky. Since head coach Vann Stuedeman took over in 2012, the Bulldogs have gone 10-1 in first-time meetings.
- Mississippi State claimed its 15th-straight victory against an in-state foe with the triumph over Mississippi Valley State. Since Stuedeman started in 2012, the Bulldogs have not lost to a Mississippi program.
- Three freshmen made their Mississippi State debuts during the doubleheader.
- Stuedeman became the third-winningest coach in program history with her 67th victory in the opener. Jay Miller (2003-11/295) and Kathy Arendsen (1997-2002/220) are the only Bulldog coaches ahead of Stuedeman.
- MSU won its first home opener under Stuedeman with the victory against Mississippi Valley State.
- In three years under Stuedeman, MSU has gone 9-1 during the initial tournaments of the campaign.
- Against Northern Kentucky, MSU’s seven, eight and nine hitters when a combined six-for-eight with four runs scored and three batted in.
- Senior Sam Lenahan finished the two games with two runs batted in, moving her ahead of Keri McCallum (1997-2000/105) and into eighth place on the MSU career record list with 106.
- Lenahan’s triple was the first by a Mississippi State player since Jessica Cooley’s at Alabama on April 19, 2013.
- Senior Heidi Shape continued her regular-season hot streak with a two-for-five performance at the plate in the two games. Shape, who has started every game of her MSU career, has hit .394 (13-for-33) with 12 runs batted in during her last 12 regular-season contests.
- Sophomore pitcher Jacey Punches started her second career game in the opener (vs. Jackson State/April 2, 2013) and recorded her second contest with five or more strikeouts (eight vs. Jackson State/April 2, 2013).