Bulldogs Grind Until Very End In 5-2 Loss To Alabama
"My heart swells for the Mississippi State Bulldogs tonight," Head Coach Vann Stuedeman said. "We fought hard and played great on national television. I am very proud of our team."
Junior left-handed pitcher Stephanie Becker started the game for the Maroon and White and tossed a scoreless first frame. Fellow junior lefty Kylie Vry replaced Becker to start the bottom of the second and suffered the loss, falling to 9-8 on the year after surrendering three runs (two earned) on four hits in an inning of work. Senior southpaw Lindsey Dunlap closed out the game for State, giving up two runs on two hits in the final four frames. In front of an SEC opening-day record crowd of 2,691, Dunlap struck out six Alabama batters.
Sophomore third baseman Sam Lenahan finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run and junior left fielder Jessica Cooley tallied an RBI single and a walk. Senior designated player Brittany Bell reached twice thanks to a single and her 51st-career hit by pitch (tied for second in SEC history), while sophomores Heidi Shape and Jessica Offutt also knocked out singles. Alabama's Jackie Traina improved to 32-2 on the season after a complete-game performance.
Deadlocked in a scoreless tie, host Alabama put a dent in the scoreboard with a three-run third. Leadoff hitter Kayla Braud reached on a fielding error by MSU junior first baseman Shelby Fisher and advanced to third on a single by center fielder Jennifer Fenton. Fenton put two in scoring position before designated player Amanda Locke drove in Braud on an infield base hit. With runners on the corners, Alabama's Keima Davis pinch-ran for Locke and immediately swiped second on Vry's first pitch to cleanup hitter Kaila Hunt. Two more runs were added when Hunt cleared the bases by depositing a 1-1 Vry pitch up the middle for a two-run single.
Hunt was pushed over to second when Traina drew a base on balls. Dunlap replaced Vry following the free pass, but loaded the bases when Cassie Reilly-Boccia reached on a fielder's choice. Crimson Tide right fielder Jazlyn Lunceford then popped up to Fisher at and second baseman Danae Hays struck out for out number two. With pressure hovering over the circle like a dark Alabama cloud, Dunlap rang up Courtney Conley on a 2-2 pitch to get out of the bases-loaded jam.
Alabama manufactured two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, which started when Braud executed a picture-perfect bunt that met its death in front of the dish. Fenton knocked Braud over to third by slicing a single to right field, advancing to second herself when MSU right fielder Brittany Gates threw to the corner in an attempt to throw Braud out. Hunt extended the lead to four runs by sailing a 2-2 offering to left field for a sacrifice fly, allowing Fenton to tap the dish. Following another walk to Traina, Reilly-Boccia pulled an 0-1 Dunlap pitch to the line in right for an RBI-single and a 5-0 Alabama lead.
Continuing to grind for their state, the Bulldogs barked back when Shape led off the sixth stanza with her second-career triple (March 7 vs. Florida). Lenahan drove in her childhood best friend by ripping a 3-2 double to the wall in left and advanced to third on a groundout by Bell. The Georgia native scored on a suicide squeeze when Cooley dropped a bunt down. Cooley raced to second after a throwing error by Traina, giving MSU a chance to bite into the three-run deficit with one swing of the bat. The potential round-tripper never materialized however, as Traina escaped with an Erin Nesbit lineout and a Fisher groundout.
Starkville's Team will learn its NCAA Tournament fate Sunday night at 9 p.m. CT on ESPNU when the field of 64 teams is announced. For more information on the MSU softball program, follow the team on Twitter at @MStateSB and like the team on Facebook at Facebook.com/MStateSB.