Columbia, S.C. - For the first time since 2001, the Mississippi State softball team (17-9, 3-4 SEC) has won five-consecutive true road games thanks do a doubleheader sweep at South Carolina (18-9, 2-3 SEC) Tuesday night. The Bulldogs won the first game at Beckham Field, 10-6, before run-ruling the host Gamecocks with a 9-0 blanking in game two.
"You have to credit Coach (Beth) Mullins and Coach (Alan) Reach for their work in the cage with these hitters," head coach Vann Stuedeman said. "It was a great start to our conference road schedule as we gear up for LSU this weekend."
In game one, junior left-handed pitcher Stephanie Becker improved to team-leading 9-3 on the season, laboring through seven innings for her team-best seventh complete game of the year. The southpaw gave up six runs (five earned) on nine hits and three walks, but struck out five batters when it counted most to secure the triumph. Kierstyn White suffered the loss for Carolina, falling to 6-5 on the year.
Seniors Ka'ili Smith and Brittany Bell each had two-hit performances. Smith went 2-for-4 with a walk and two runs, while Bell finished 2-for-3 with a walk, RBI and a career-high tying three runs. Sophomore second baseman Heidi Shape drove in two and scored once, while junior first baseman Shelby Fisher, sophomore third baseman Sam Lenahan and junior left fielder Jessica Cooley also scored runs for the Maroon and White.
State took a liking to Beckham Field early, plating two runs on two hits in the first inning of the first game. Fisher drew a one-out walk to get things started and moved over to second after a single by Bell to center field. A USC wild pitch moved the runners over to second and third, setting the table for Lenahan. Lenahan deposited a 2-2 pitch just over the second baseman's head in right for the first run of the game. With runners now on the corners, Shape executed a safety squeeze bunt to the pitcher and was thrown out at first as Bell sprinted to the dish for the Bulldogs' second run.
The host squad responded with four runs over the next four innings to take a 4-2 lead heading into the top of the fifth. That is when State scored half of its runs in the fifth on just one hit. Smith walked on four pitches and advanced to second on a groundout by Fisher. Bell copied the Hawaiian Hammer with another four-walk base on balls. Four pitches later, Lenahan drew a free pass to load the bases. With the bases loaded, Shape executed a squeeze to keep the bases full and plate Smith. All three runners on base then advanced on a passed ball, allowing Bell to score. With first base open, USC pitcher Katelynn Howswer walked Cooley to clog the basepaths yet again. Redshirt sophomore shortstop Erin Nesbit then received the green light on a 3-0 pitch and blooped it over the shortstop's head into left for an RBI single, giving MSU a 5-4 lead it would never give up. The Maroon and White put two more across to make it 7-4 when USC's shortstop made a two-out error that allowed Shape and Cooley to score.
After a solo home run by Kaela Jackson made it 7-5, MSU poured on three more runs in the top of the sixth. Just like the previous inning, Smith led off the frame by reaching first, this time via a single up the middle. Fisher replicated Smith's fifth inning at-bat and walked on four pitches. It took one pitch after Fisher's at-bat for Bell to go shopping at the gap in left field, driving in Smith with an RBI double and advancing Fisher to third with Lenahan stepping into the box. Lenahan grounded to second on a 1-2 count as the Gamecocks' second baseman threw a laser home to get Fisher. Fisher slid under the tag safely when the catcher muffed the receiving end of the throw and the ball rolled to the backstop. Bell saw the ball dribble past the dish and sprinted home for the third and final run of the inning. Carolina knocked out an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, but it was all they could muster in game one.
Game two was a combination of big-time hitting and phenomenal pitching, as junior lefty Kylie Vry (5-3) hurled a complete-game two-hit shutout. The Iowa native struck out six and walked two in 81 efficient pitches. At the dish, Cooley, Lenahan and Shape went yard for State's first three homers in SEC play. The three in the middle of the order combined to go 6-for-11 with five RBIs, four runs and three round-trippers.
Just like game one, MSU jumped head with a quick 2-0 lead in the second game. Cooley walked on a full count but was forced out at second for the first out on a fielder's choice by Nesbit. Making the start in game two, freshman Ashley Phillips walked to push Nesbit to second. Both runners advance one base when Offutt grounded out to second. Smith then became the first Bulldog intentionally walked this season, loading the bases. With the bases full, Fisher grounded to second and reached on a throwing error by the Gamecocks' second baseman. The throwing miscue allowed both Nesbit and Phillips to score.
The visitors doubled their lead in the third with another two runs. Cooley tied Florida's Kelsey Horton with her league-leading ninth home run of the 2012 campaign. Nesbit came up next and walked for the third time Tuesday. The redshirt sophomore trotted to second on a groundout by Phillips. With two down, Offutt pinched it to left to put Bulldogs on first and third. Smith then drove in Nesbit with a single down the left-field line to make it 4-0 in favor of the Maroon and White.
For the third-straight inning, MSU put up a deuce on the scoreboard with two runs on three hits. With one down, Lenahan barrel bombed it over the fence in left for her first home run since Feb. 10. Lenahan's childhood friend Shape came up right after and cranked it to the wall in left for a standup double. With Shape on second, Cooley singled to the third baseman to put two on with one down. After Cooley stole second to put two in scoring position, Nesbit sent a shot to the deepest part of the park, as the center fielder caught it and Shape tagged from third for the sixth run.
The final three runs of State's trip to Columbia came in the fifth when Shape knocked in Fisher and Lenahan with a three-run home run to left.
Starkville's team will spend one more night in the Palmetto State before traveling to Cajun Country for a three-game series at LSU starting Friday at 6 p.m. CT. Free audio streaming of all three games this weekend will be available through HailStateTV at www.hailstate.com/hstvlive. A video stream of Saturday's game will be available to current HSTV subscribers (made possible by stream share from LSU). Friday and Sunday's games will not be available on video. For more information regarding MSU's SEC road opener, follow the team on Twitter at @MStateSB and like the team at Facebook.com/MStateSB.
- The Maroon and White have won five-straight true road games for the first time since MSU won eight in a row from March 27-April 2001.
- MSU's shutout in game two was the first SEC road shutout by the Maroon and White since State blanked South Carolina, 1-0, on April 12, 2008.
- After hitting zero home runs in their first six SEC games, the Bulldogs exploded for three in game two at South Carolina.
- The double-digit run output from game one was the first double-digit run total against a SEC school since State pushed 11 across the plate vs. South Carolina on March 9, 2011.
- Having five home runs in her previous 108 career games, Jessica Cooley has hit six out of the park in her last 13 contests.
- After throwing just 12 complete games in 56 total games a season ago, the MSU staff has already gone the distance 13 times in the team's first 26 games this season.