"We learned a little bit about ourselves this weekend," Stuedeman said. "In this marathon of a season, we've only played four games out of 56, so we have 52 left to play. We're fortunate to be off to a good start, but we play in less than 48 hours and have a lot of work to do to prepare."
Senior left-handed pitcher and Alabama native Lindsey Dunlap (1-0) picked up her first victory of 2012, while Kylie Vry recorded her first save of the new season. Junior lefty Stephanie Becker started the game, giving up just one earned run (four total) over 4.1 innings. Memphis starter Carly Hummel (0-2) took the loss after 139 pitches.
The Maroon and White found different ways to get on base, tallying seven hits, eight walks and six hit by pitches. Sophomore catcher Sam Lenahan rebounded from a 0-for-4 performance Saturday by going 2-for-3 with an RBI, run and a 14-pitch walk in the sixth inning that completely changed the momentum of the game. Senior catcher Ka'ili Smith (1-for-3) and junior first baseman Shelby Fisher (1-for-2) went a combined go 2-for-5 atop of the lineup with four walks and three runs. Sophomore center fielder Jessica Offutt (1-for-3) built off her 3-for-4 performance the day before with a two-RBI single, while freshman third baseman Swayze Hollenhead registered her first career hit. Junior infielder Chrissie Rovtar was clutch once again, connecting on a three-RBI double in her only at bat of the day.
Memphis was the first to put the scoreboard operator to work with a three-run third inning. Third baseman Jami Miller singled to left and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by center fielder Kamri Chester. Becker then struck out her third batter of the morning for the second out, but the inning was extended when right fielder Ijiah Hargrove reached on a fielding error. With Chester advancing to third on the miscue and Hargrove stealing second on the next pitch, Tigers' first baseman Jessica Phillips walked to load the bases. That set the stage for cleanup hitter Morgan Mosby, who pinched it to right between first and second to give Memphis its first two runs of the game. With Phillips now on third thanks to the single, Memphis catcher Amber Lindahl blooped a 0-1 offering just over the head of MSU junior shortstop Erin Nesbit, plating Phillips for a 3-0 Memphis lead.
State scored their first run in the top of the fifth, which started with Smith singling through the left side of the infield. For her third-consecutive at bat, Fisher walked on a full count, and was then pinch ran for by senior Brittany Gates. Lenahan then copied Smith with a single between second and third, making the bases loaded. Sophomore second baseman Heidi Shape stepped into the box and quickly stepped out of it, knocking in Smith as a result of getting plunked on the first pitch.
The Tigers earned the run right back in the bottom half of the frame when Hargrove singled, stole second and scored on a single by Mosby. With the Blue and White advancing their lead to 4-1, Dunlap replaced Becker and made her 2012 debut in style, getting Memphis to pop out and strike out to keep the deficit within striking distance.
Batting around for the first time this year, the Maroon and White scored eight runs on four hits in the sixth. Following the first out, Offutt drew a full-count base on balls, advancing to second when Smith was hit by a pitch in the next at bat. For the third time up to that point, Fisher loaded the bases with a single to center field. With nine batters left on base prior to the sixth, Lenahan stepped up to the plate determined to awaken the lineup. After starting 2-2 off Hummel, Lenahan fouled off eight of the next nine pitches to stay alive. On the 14th pitch of the at bat, facing a full count yet again, Lenahan altered the energy of the contest by taking ball four high to knock in Offutt.
"It was a really important at bat in the game," Lenahan said. "All of my teammates were on the rail in the dugout telling me to keep battling, and that's how I was able to pass it down. Before the inning started, Coach Stuedeman told us to find some energy from somewhere. If she didn't talk to us at that point in the game, we wouldn't have won."
Now down just 4-2 with the bases juiced and Memphis having just picked up its second out, State continued to rally. Up next was senior right fielder Brittany Bell, who tied the school record by getting hit by a pitch for the 33rd time in her career. The HBP knocked in Smith, kept the bases loaded and trimmed the lead to one as the Tigers replaced Hummel in the circle with Jordan Richwood. The righty's first opponent was Rovtar, who gave MSU its first lead of the day with a three-run pinch-hit double to center. Nesbit reentered the game for Rovtar at second and was put on third by Hollenhead's single. With runners on the corners and two outs, junior left fielder Jessica Cooley walked on four pitches to load the bases yet again.
To the dish stepped Offutt, who plated Nesbit and Hollenhead on a base hit to right field. On a quirky throw home, the right fielder's throw hit Offutt's bat near the first-base line and rattled off toward the Memphis dugout, allowing Cooley to score as well. The oddity gave the Bulldogs a 9-4 advantage, but Memphis charged back immediately in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run pinch hit home run by Kassy Dunn. Vry then replaced Dunlap, striking out half of the eight batters she faced over the final two scoreless innings.
Starkville's team returns home Monday for a 3:30 p.m. open practice, before hitting the road Tuesday for a 6 p.m. Valentine's Day contest against Samford University at Bulldog Field in Birmingham, Ala. The game marks a homecoming for Stuedeman, assistant coaches Alan Reach and Beth Mullins, as well as Cooley, Dunlap and sophomore pitcher Shana Sherrod. In addition to MSU's ties to Birmingham, all three of Samford's coaches played under Stuedeman at the University of Alabama over the course of the last decade. Fans can visit HailState.com for live stats and follow along at Twitter.com/MStateSB for live in-game updates.
"Samford is coached by three very good friends of mine," Stuedeman said. "I look for them to be prepared for us since they know me so well, so we will definitely have our hands full on the road Tuesday."
2012 Mardi Grad Invitational Notes
- In the four victories at the Mardi Gras Invitational, the Bulldogs defeated two NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago (Memphis and Jacksonville State), one team claiming a preseason Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year (Lipscomb) and host South Alabama.
- The Bulldogs scored eight runs or more in an inning for the first time since scoring eight in the fourth inning at Southern Miss on March 17, 2010.
- Brittany Bell tied All-American Keri McCallum's 12-year old school record with her 33rd-career hit by pitch in the sixth inning.
- Chrissie Rovtar is hitting .667 (2-for-3) as a pinch hitter this season with three RBIs
- Opponents hit just .159 (7-for-44) off Bulldog pitchers this weekend with runners on base.
- Lindsey Dunlap picked up her first win inside the circle since April 21, 2010 at Auburn.
- Kylie Vry recorded her first save since March 19, 2011 at Arkansas. In her last seven appearances dating back to last year, Vry owns a 1.72 earned run average.