STARKVILLE, Miss. – To be young and in love ... with softball. For the seven Mississippi State softball freshmen, loving the game and thriving while playing it are what they have done since arriving in Starkville.
All seven experienced action in last weekend’s three-game series sweep of Iowa and the group is a significant reason why the club is off to a 14-0 start to 2014.
“We have brought in some talented freshmen,” head coach Vann Stuedeman said.
Headlining the rookies have been Caroline Seitz, Alexis Silkwood and Mackenzie Toler. Seitz, who has started every game at third base, leads the Bulldogs with a .341 batting average and 14 hits while standing second on the squad in slugging percentage (.707), total bases (29) and home runs (two).
"Every game I went to see this summer, Caroline hit a home run," Stuedeman said. "In her first at-bat this fall, she seemed a little nervous, but she’s really settled in and does not even seem like a freshman anymore. She holds her own at third base and offensively, she’s mature beyond her years."
Silkwood, who was the Feb. 17 SEC Freshman of the Week, has not allowed a run in her last 24.0 innings pitched, good for the fifth-longest streak in MSU history, and the longest ever by a freshman. The East Alton, Ill., product has compiled a 3-0 record with a save and ranks third in the SEC in earned-run average (0.27) and second in batting average against (.082).
“She has a mental toughness about her that is rare,” Stuedeman said about Silkwood. “You don’t see it all the time. When freshmen come in, we talk about being a pitcher versus a thrower. I think she’s becoming more of a pitcher now."
Toler, a two-way threat, recorded the final three outs in last Wednesday’s game against Central Arkansas to complete the shutout and on Sunday against Iowa, registered the first multiple-hit game of her career with two singles and added an RBI.
While the talent of the group is visible each game, Silkwood also credits the closeness of the group for part of their early-season success.
“Each and every freshman is behind each other all the time. We are a close class and already are like sisters. Each of us has a different personality that complements each other well,” she said.
The trio was not alone in making an impact last week as Madison Arroyo made her MSU debut, pinch running against Central Arkansas. In the series opener against Iowa on Friday, she stole her first career base after entering as a pinch runner in the second inning. Katie Anne Bailey pinch ran in three contests last week and scored her first career run in the Sunday finale against the Hawkeyes. Olivia Golden, a redshirt freshman who received a medical hardship waiver for the 2013 season, appeared in all three games against Iowa and registered her first at-bat of the campaign on Sunday.
Bailey also notes the tightness of the group as a reason for their early-career success.
"We have each other's backs in everything from school to softball to everyday life," she said. "When you have six teammates who you know you can always count on, it adds security to everything you are doing. When you form a bond like that and a friendship it makes doing things for each other easy. It's just what you do when you have teammates."
Rounding out the rookie impact makers was Amanda Ivy, who experienced her first extended playing time Sunday and made the most of it. She tallied her first career at-bat, putout and run batted in with a bases-loaded walk during the Bulldogs’ seven-run fifth inning.
“Ivy had her first appearance in center field,” Stuedeman said. “She was a hair away from a diving catch in right center and made a diving catch in left center. It was fun to get her out there and see her play a little bit.”
The freshmen and the rest of the Mississippi State squad return to action Friday to open the first Mississippi Gulf Coast Softball Classic. The Bulldogs will be in Gulfport for six games in three days, beginning on Friday with UTSA at 2 p.m. and No. 12/12 Baylor at 8.