STARKVILLE, Miss. – Two more offensive outbursts helped the Mississippi State softball team to two more wins Saturday afternoon as the Bulldogs topped Northern Kentucky 6-1 and Jacksonville State 9-1 in six innings. It is the first 4-0 start for MSU since a 5-0 beginning in 2012.
Mississippi State was paced at the plate by senior Heidi Shape, who went three-for-five with four runs scored, three walks and three stolen bases during the two contests. Freshman Caroline Seitz also had a big day at the dish with her first career home run, two doubles and two RBI.
MSU trailed 1-0 against Jacksonville State before tying the game at 1-1 in the fourth and scoring seven times in the bottom of the fifth to take a commanding 8-1 lead. It has not been just the offense, however, as the Bulldogs’ pitching staff has surrendered just three runs on eight hits. The staff’s earned-run average sits at 0.91.
In game one, freshman Mackenzie Toler earned her first career start, tossing one-and-two-thirds innings before giving way to sophomore Jacey Punches. Toler did not allow a hit, walked one batter and struck out two. Punches (2-0) earned the win and yielded one hit and seven strikeouts in three-and-a-third innings. Senior Shana Sherrod came in for the final two innings and allowed a run on two hits and a walk. She also fanned one. NKU’s Alex Caudill (0-2) tossed three innings and surrendered all six runs on eight hits and two walks. Alyssa Enrique entered for the final three frames and allowed just one hit and a walk.
During the second contest, senior Alison Owen (1-0) gave up a leadoff home run and retired the next 11 batters. She finished the game allowing just three hits and one run while fanning 10. Tiffany Harbin (1-1) took the loss for the Gamecocks and tossed four-and-two-thirds innings, allowing seven runs on six hits and two walks. She fanned six. Logan Green recorded the final two outs of the contest and yielded two runs on two hits and a pair of free passes.
In the opener, Mississippi State wasted little time going ahead, taking a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, scoring all four runs with two outs. With one out, Shape walked and classmate Sam Lenahan singled to put runners on first and second. After a fly out to center, junior Julia Echols singled to right to plate Shape and move Lenahan to third. Echols stole second and Toler helped herself with a two-run single as she beat out a slow roller to the third baseman that allowed Lenahan and Echols to score. Seitz finished the scoring with a double off the wall in right center that plated Toler for the four-run cushion.
After retiring the Norse in order in the top of the second, MSU added two more runs in the bottom of the frame. Sophomore Kayla Winkfield led off with a single, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Lenahan sacrifice fly. Shape, who had walked, scored on a double over the head of the center fielder by senior Logan Foulks.
The Norse broke through for their first hit of the game in the top of the fifth as Katelyn Roy singled to left center. Punches bounced back with consecutive strikeouts to end the threat.
In the top of the sixth, NKU scored its only run of the contest to make it a 6-1 Mississippi State lead. KC Straley doubled to right with one out and Dee Dee Davis followed with a walk. After a pop out, Natalie Papi singled over the head of Sherrod and into center to plate Straley. Sherrod closed the inning with a fly out.
Sherrod retired the Norse in order in the top of the seventh to seal the victory.
In game two, Jacksonville State jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Ella Denes led off the game with a home run to right center.
The Gamecocks nearly made it a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth, but a leaping catch from sophomore left fielder Loryn Nichols saved a sure home run by Sara Boarders. Nichols timed the jump just right, reached over the wall in left and made the grab.
After the big defensive play, MSU evened the score in the bottom of the fourth when Seitz led off with a home run.
Owen gave up a leadoff single to Cadi Oliver in the top of the fifth, but a sacrifice bunt and consecutive strikeouts left Oliver on second base.
The Bulldogs then broke loose with seven runs to take a commanding 8-1 lead. Winkfield was hit by a pitch and stole second. After a pop out, a fielder’s choice by Shape ended up with runners on the corners and one down as Winkfield beat Harbin’s toss to third. Foulks walked to fill the bases and Lenahan delivered the game-winning run with a double to the gap in right center that plated Winkfield and Shape to put MSU ahead 3-1. Toler followed with a two-run single up the middle that drove in Lenahan and Foulks for a 5-1 edge. Echols blasted a two-run home run to left that made the Bulldog advantage 7-1. Winkfield closed the scoring with a single up the middle that drove in Nichols, who had walked, to make it an 8-1 lead.
Mississippi State allowed one runner to reach base in the sixth and ended the game with a run in the bottom of the frame for the 9-1 final score. Shape walked, stole second and scored on a Lenahan double to right center.
MSU finishes the Bulldog Kickoff Classic on Sunday afternoon with a 1:30 rematch against Jacksonville State.
- In three years under head coach Vann Stuedeman, MSU has gone 11-1 during the initial tournaments of the campaign.
- Mississippi State registered seven walks in the doubleheader, raising the team’s total to 25 through the first four contests. The Bulldogs have struck out just nine times this season.
- MSU stole nine bases in the doubleheader, lifting its opening-weekend total to 24. A year ago through four games, the Bulldogs had tallied 16 swipes. Mississippi State did not reach the 24-swipe total until game seven in 2013.
- The Bulldogs’ pitching staff tallied consecutive starts by freshmen pitchers in Friday night’s game (Alexis Silkwood) and Saturday’s opener (Mackenzie Toler). In 2013, MSU had just one start by a rookie.
- Mississippi State has allowed just three runs through the first four games of the season, its fewest since yielding two in the initial four games of the 2010 campaign.
- Senior Heidi Shape continued her regular-season hot streak with a three-for-five performance at the plate in the two games. Shape, who has started every game of her MSU career, has hit .421 (16-for-38) with 12 runs batted in during her last 14 regular-season contests.
- Senior Logan Foulks continued her run producing start to the campaign with one more RBI. She has driven in six during the first four games of the season. She began the day tied for third in the Southeastern Conference with five runs batted in.
- Junior Julia Echols has hit .500 (four-for-eight) with four runs batted in during the first four games of the season. In all of 2013, Echols tallied 10 RBI and 17 hits.
- Senior Sam Lenahan, who tied the MSU single-season record with 51 walks last season, has drawn five bases on balls through the first four games.
- Lenahan drove in four more runs to increase her career total to 110 RBI. She is one RBI short of reaching Haley Guess (2004-08/111) for seventh on the Mississippi State career ledger.
- Senior Jessica Offutt’s one stolen base moved her into 11th on the Mississippi State career chart with 48 swipes.
- Senior pitcher Alison Owen earned the win versus Jacksonville State, upping her career nonconference record to 14-4.
- Owen owns 153 strikeouts versus non-SEC opponents and tossed her eighth MSU game with 10 or more strikeouts with 10.
- Owen’s 10 whiffs increased her career total to 260, moving her up to sixth on the Mississippi State chart.
- Sophomore pitcher Jacey Punches has tallied 16 strikeouts in her two appearances this season. In all of last year, Punches recorded 23 whiffs.
- Senior Shana Sherrod threw 2.0 innings in all of 2012 and tallied 2.0 Saturday against Northern Kentucky. Sherrod tallied one strikeout Saturday, one less than her 2013 total.