TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Showing a national-television audience what the true heart of a champion looks like, the Mississippi State softball team took No. 4 Alabama to the edge of defeat, before falling to the defending national champions in a 9-8 thriller Sunday afternoon at Rhoads Stadium. The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 29-16 overall and 7-11 in the Southeastern Conference, while the Crimson Tide improved to 40-7 overall and 12-6 in SEC play.
“Our kids can go home tonight and put their head on their pillow and pass the pillow test,” Head Coach Vann Stuedeman said. “They were excellent. It just did not fall their way. That is how it goes sometimes in life, the real world and sports.”
Down 6-1 after the first two innings on Fox Sports South, State tallied a trio of two-out RBIs in the fourth, and added two more runs in the fifth to tie the game at six. The comeback marked the first time the Maroon and White erased a five-run deficit in a game since beating Florida State on March 11, 2011. Ironically enough, the final score of 9-8 against the Seminoles was the same as Sunday’s final score vs. Alabama and also took place in Rhoads Stadium, as part of the SEC/ACC Challenge.
Deadlocked in a 6-6 tie in the second-to-last inning, and the series hanging in the balance, Alabama’s Haylie McCleney sent the crowd of 3,814 into a frenzy with a go-ahead two run home run, giving Alabama an 8-6 lead heading to the last frame.
The lead would not last long, however, as MSU’s Briana Bell connected on a Brickyard barrel, driving in Heidi Shape and herself on her eighth homer of the season. The crowd silencer evened the battle between the pair of Highway 82 rivals at eight apiece.
Bulldog center fielder Loryn Nichols threw out the would-be game-winning run at the plate for the second out of the bottom of the seventh, giving the Bulldogs one more out until extra-inning softball. With MSU honoring the late Mal Moore with No. 15 decals on their helmets, it was Alabama’s No. 15, Danae Hays that drove in the game-winning run with a single to the gap in left. State left fielder Jessica Offutt stretched out all of her 5-foot-5 body to make the Superman-type catch, but the ball trickled just off the edge of her Easton glove for the walk-off loss.
Mississippi State finished the game with 10 hits off 2012 SEC Pitcher of the Year Jackie Traina, the most given up all season by the right-hander. Last year’s Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player also surrendered a career-high tying seven earned runs (eight total) to the Bulldogs’ offense.
Bell, Lenahan and Shape each went 2-for-4 at the dish, while senior right fielder Jessica Cooley finished her impressive week 1-for-2 with a solo home run and two walks in the series finale. In four games in her home state this past week, Cooley hit .600 (6-for-10) with nine RBIs, four home runs, five runs scored, three walks and a triple.
Alabama’s Leslie Jury picked up her second win in as many days, improving to 15-3 on the year. State junior right-hander Alison Owen was the hard-luck loser, falling to 15-8 after giving up three runs on six hits in 5.2 innings of work.
With the heartbreaking defeat, MSU dropped to 3-10 against RPI Top-20 teams. Half of the losses have come by just one run. State was 1-16 vs. the same competition last season, with only three of the 16 losses coming by a single run.