BOCA RATON, Fla. – Playing its first road games of the 2014 season, the Mississippi State softball team (7-0) used dominant pitching and two home runs to sweep Florida Atlantic (3-4) on Thursday evening to open the FAU Strike Out Cancer Tournament.
The Bulldogs took game one 2-1 with a two-run home run from junior Julia Echols and the nightcap 5-0, powered by a solo long ball from senior Heidi Shape and two-run single from junior pinch hitter Erika Gaul.
MSU is 7-0 or better for just the fourth time in program history, joining the 2008 (11-0), 2006 (16-0) and 2004 squads (7-0).
In addition to the home run heroics, pitching was a key piece of the MSU puzzle again as senior Alison Owen and freshman Alexis Silkwood combined to surrender just four hits and strike out 23 without walking a batter.
In the opener, Owen (3-0) limited the Owls to two singles and a solo home run and did not walk a batter while fanning 11 in the complete-game performance. Kylee Hanson (0-2) went the distance for FAU and held the Bulldogs to two hits and a trio of walks while fanning three.
During the second contest, Silkwood (2-0) retired the first 12 batters of the game and finished with a career-high 12 whiffs. Silkwood's 12 strikeouts are the most by a freshman in a game in program history and tied for the 10th most by any MSU hurler. She surrendered just a leadoff single to open the bottom of the fifth. FAU’s Samantha Messer tossed five-and-a-third innings, yielding three singles, a walk and Shape’s long ball. She fanned five, walked one and hit two. Amanda Wilson entered for the final inning-and-two-thirds, giving up two hits and a pair of runs with a walk and strikeout.
In game one the Bulldogs scored their two runs with a two-out rally in the top of the second inning. After a strikeout and groundout opened the frame, freshman Mackenzie Toler drew a walk to continue the frame. Echols followed with her second home run in the last three games to give the Bulldogs a two-run lead.
Neither team mounted another threat until the bottom of the fourth, when FAU’s Christina Martinez beat out a single to Owen to open the frame. Owen bounced back with a pair of strikeouts and a fly out to end the threat.
Following the Echols’ home run, Mississippi State did not have another hit until one out in the fifth, when sophomore Loryn Nichols singled off the glove of a leaping FAU third baseman. Nichols was erased on a fielder’s choice by classmate Kayla Winkfield, who left first base early to close the frame.
Owen retired the next six batters she faced before Melissa Martinez led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run just inside the left-field foul pole. Owen answered with three-straight strikeouts to seal the victory.
In the second contest, the Bulldogs had a two-out opportunity in the top of the first on consecutive singles from seniors Logan Foulks and Sam Lenahan. Messer ended the frame with a lineout to the left fielder.
Silkwood retired the first nine batters in order. In the top of the fourth, MSU mounted its second threat as Foulks was hit by a pitch to open the frame, but three-straight fielder’s choices ended the half inning.
Echols led off the Bulldogs’ fifth getting hit by a pitch. A Nichols fielder’s choice erased Echols at second, but Nichols stole second base with Winkfield at the plate. A Winkfield groundout moved Nichols to third, but she was left stranded after a strikeout.
After the Owls’ defensive hold, Shelby Knox led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a single to left to break up Silkwood’s perfect game. Pinch runner Sarah Howell moved to second on a one-out fielder’s choice but was left stranded by a strikeout.
In the top of the sixth, the Bulldogs took a 4-0 lead. Shape led off with her long ball. Following a Foulks lineout to left, Lenahan walked and was replaced by redshirt freshman pinch runner Olivia Golden. Freshman Caroline Seitz singled through the left side and Toler walked to load the bases for Echols, who was hit by a pitch to force in Golden for a two-run cushion. After a strikeout, Gaul delivered a two-run single to left center for the final two runs of the frame.
Lenahan tacked on the final run for MSU with a two-out solo home run in the top of the seventh.
Silkwood got into her only trouble of the night in the bottom of the seventh as Christina Martinez was safe at first on an error to open the frame. After two strikeouts, Silkwood hit Jordan Stovall to put two runners on. Silkwood shut the door, recording her third whiff of the frame to earn her second victory in as many starts.
MSU continues action Friday at the FAU Strike Out Cancer Tournament with a 9 a.m. CT contest against LIU-Brooklyn before taking on Maryland at 2 p.m.
- With four runs in the top of the sixth in game two, the Bulldogs have tallied at least one inning with four or more runs in every game of the year but Thursday’s opener.
- Late innings are when Mississippi State has excelled the most on offense, outscoring teams 12-1 in the fourth inning, 14-0 in the fifth and 5-1 in the sixth.
- The Bulldogs have scored 50 runs through the first seven games of the season, their highest-scoring start to a campaign since pushing across 52 runs in the first seven games of 2005.
- MSU stole three bases in the doubleheader to raise its total to 27 swipes. The Bulldogs did not reach the 27-steal total until game eight in 2013.
- Mississippi State pushed across four runs with two outs, increasing its season total to 25 two-out runs (50.0 percent of team total).
- MSU has struck out just 19 times in the first seven games of the campaign (3.2 whiffs per contest). During 2013, the Bulldogs averaged 6.3 strikeouts a game.
- In the opener, MSU caught its first runner stealing on its first attempt against the team this year. Senior catcher Sam Lenahan threw out FAU right fielder Whitley Herb at second in the bottom of the first inning.
- Junior Erika Gaul’s pinch-hit single was her first career hit and gave her a career-high two RBI in the contest.
- Junior Julia Echols drove in three runs in the doubleheader to increase her season total to seven RBI. In all of 2013, Echols tallied 10 RBI.
- Echols matched her 2013 home run total of two with a long ball in the second inning of game one.
- Senior Sam Lenahan’s home run in game two increased her career total to 111 RBI. She is tied with Hayle Guess (2004-08/111) for seventh on the Mississippi State career ledger.
- Senior Jessica Offutt’s stolen base in the opener moved her into a tie with Ali Bainbridge (2008-11) for 10th on the Mississippi State career chart with 49 swipes.
- Senior pitcher Alison Owen earned the win in game one, upping her career non-conference record to 16-4.
- Owen recorded the ninth game of her Mississippi State career with 10 or more strikeouts, fanning 11.
- Owen owns 277 career strikeouts, moving her up to fifth on the MSU all-time chart.