Starkville, Miss - Following a five-game, weeklong road trip, the 17-12 (3-7 SEC) Mississippi State softball team will look to get back on track Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. as it takes on the University of Alabama-Birmingham (16-10, 3-0 C-USA) at the MSU Softball Stadium. The game against the Blazers will mark this year's first Twitter Tuesday contest, where various items will be given away to fans that tweet at @MStateSB, the official Twitter account for the MSU softball team.
"Coach (Marla) Townsend has been there 12 years and has built them into quite the program," assistant coach Beth Mullins said. "They have a player in Whitney Fletcher who is a triple threat at the plate and is coming off a great weekend at Kentucky."
No person in Starkville knows UAB better than Mullins, who was a four-year letterwinner for the Blazers from 2000-04. Mullins spent her first year after graduation as a volunteer assistant coach at her alma mater, before returning from 2007-10 to serve as an assistant coach.
The city of Birmingham itself is also no stranger to Starkville's team, as the home of the Southeastern Conference is also the hometown of MSU head coach Vann Stuedeman and assistant coach Alan Reach. The metropolitan area additionally serves as the birthplace for MSU players Lindsey Dunlap, Shana Sherrod and Jessica Cooley.
Cooley, who is tied for the SEC lead in home runs with nine, led all MSU hitters with a .400 average this past week, going 6-for-15 with three runs, two RBIs and a home run. Senior catcher Ka'ili Smith also had a workmanlike spring break, finishing 6-for-16 (.375) with five walks, four runs and two driven in.
In the circle, junior left-handed pitcher Stephanie Becker continued to lead SEC hurlers in innings pitched (39.1) and strikeouts (39) in conference games, throwing three complete games and 15 strikeouts this past week, ending the trip with 1-2 and a 3.57 ERA.
The Bulldogs swept South Carolina March 13 in Columbia, before losing three games at LSU in Baton Rouge March 16-18. In the 10-6 victory over the Gamecocks in game one, MSU put a 10 spot on the board against a SEC team for the first time in over a calendar year (March 9, 2011 vs. South Carolina). The Maroon and White came back to win its fifth-straight true road game with a 9-0, five-inning shutout over USC in the second game. The fifth-straight true road win marked the longest such streak for MSU since winning eight in a row in the spring of 2001. The blanking of the home squad in the second matchup was the first SEC road shutout by State since blanking South Carolina, 1-0, on April 12, 2008.
In the first contest at LSU's Tiger Park, the Maroon and White jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but lost by a score of 10-7. Despite the defeat, it marked the first time in a decade that MSU had scored seven runs in Baton Rouge, while also being the first time since April of 2007 that the Bulldogs plated seven-plus runs in three-straight conference contests. In game two Saturday at LSU, Starkville's team scored in the first inning again, but gave up three runs in the third inning to drop a 3-1 decision. Sunday saw both teams collect three hits, six walks, two errors and a stolen base, but it was LSU that produced a 4-0 victory.
If the Bulldogs are going to snap their three-game losing streak, they must defeat a UAB squad that has already picked up two victories over the SEC in the past week. The Green and Gold went 5-0 and captured the University of Kentucky Softball Invitational thanks in part to two triumphs against the host Wildcats. On Sunday, the UAB softball team exploded for a school-record six round-trippers in its 20-7 run-rule win over UK in the championship game. On March 16, the Blazers battled back from a 5-0 deficit to defeat the Blue and White in 10 innings by a slim 6-5 margin.
On offense, UAB is led by the junior transfer Fletcher, who was named the Conference USA Hitter of the Week March 19 after hitting four home runs at the tournament. The Decatur, Ala., native also scored six runs and tallied nine RBIs, batting .389 on the weekend while accounting for 15 of UAB's 37 total runs scored.
Throwing out the first pitch prior to Tuesday's non-conference showdown will be Jennifer Gregory, representing the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. Along with tweeting at @MStateSB, fans can also win prizes with the popular Bulldog Bingo and Movie Trivia events. As always, softball aficionados will have the chance to win a Vanntastic t-shirt with every extra-base hit.
Following the midweek tilt against UAB, MSU will play host to the No. 11/9 Tennessee Lady Volunteers for a three-game weekend series at the MSU Softball Stadium. First pitch is 5:30 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. For more information regarding MSU softball, follow the team on Twitter at @MStateSB and like the team at Facebook.com/MStateSB.