Softball Ready For ESPN Contest Vs. No. 3 Alabama In SEC Tournament
STARKVILLE, Miss. - The sun will set and the bright lights will turn on when more than 99 million homes have the opportunity to watch Mississippi State (33-21, 12-16 SEC) battle No. 3/3 Alabama (47-7, 23-5 SEC) in a quarterfinal contest of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Highway 82 showdown between the eighth-seeded Bulldogs and top-seeded Crimson Tide takes place Thursday night at 7 p.m. from Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN3.com.
"Preparing for the postseason is the best time of the year," Head Coach Vann Stuedeman said. "It is your second Christmas. It is what everybody plays for; motivation will not be a huge factor."
Beth Mowins will provide the play-by-play for the ESPN telecast, while Jessica Mendoza will handle analysis and Holly Rowe will serve as the reporter. For those unable to catch the game on the various ESPN platforms, free audio streaming will be available through HailStateTV at www.hailstate.com/hstvlive.
The quarterfinal matchup is a rematch of the three-game series Alabama won in Starkville earlier this season. The Tide squeaked out a 5-4 victory with a seventh-inning run March 30, before holding on for a 4-2 win the next day despite State having the game-winning run at the plate to end of the game. Alabama finished the weekend with a 9-3 triumph on April 1.
While Alabama is 49-7 all-time against the Maroon and White and has won 26-consecutive games in the series, the Bulldogs have won 14 of their last 17 games since the two SEC West counterparts met on the diamond. Part of that stretch was a 12-game winning streak from April 10-May 4, the third-longest winning streak in school history.
"It's about confidence," Stuedeman explained. "When you are playing a team for the fourth time, it is a battle of will; you have to impose your will on your opponent. Everybody knows your strengths and everybody knows your weaknesses, so it is a gut check."
Starkville's Team will be making its 12th appearance all-time at the SEC Tournament. State is 11-19 in the tourney, including a 3-8 record in opening games. The last time Tuscaloosa hosted the tournament, the Bulldogs upset top-10 Tennessee by an 8-2 margin in the opening round. While MSU has dropped four out of five against the Crimson Tide all-time in SEC bracket play, the Maroon and White are a solid 3-2 in the tournament in games played on May 10th.
Highway 82 Connections...
- Before becoming head coach at Mississippi State on June 23, 2011, Vann Stuedeman spent the previous 11 seasons as an assistant at Alabama. Serving as the pitching coach, Stuedeman guided six different pitchers to 11 All-American honors en route to three Southeastern Conference championships and six appearances in the Women's College World Series.
- Bulldog assistant coach Alan Reach was a student manager under Stuedeman and Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy at Alabama from 2000-02, graduating in '02 with a degree in secondary education and language arts.
- Reach returned to Tuscaloosa from 2005-11, where he coached Tuscaloosa County High School and current Alabama senior outfielder Jazlyn Lunceford. With Lunceford, Reach led the Wildcats to Region 5 titles in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
- Not only did Reach graduate from Alabama, but his sister Jennifer was a four-year starter for the Crimson Tide from 2000-03. Jennifer currently ranks fourth in school history with 267 games started, and owns the distinction of recording the first-ever Alabama hit in the Women's College World Series (May 25, 2000 vs. UCLA).
- State volunteer assistant coach Kelsi Dunne was a four-time All-American and two-time SEC pitcher of the year at Alabama from 2007-11. The Crimson Tide's all-time strikeout leader with 1,219, Dunne is coaching against her alma mater this weekend as part of an internship to finish her master's degree in sport management from Alabama (Expected graduation: May 2012).
- MSU redshirt sophomore shortstop Erin Nesbit and freshman infielder Megan Nesbit (sister) are first cousins with Alabama starting outfielder Jennifer Fenton. In addition to the family ties, Fenton also played against current MSU sophomores Heidi Shape and Sam Lenahan in high school.
- Both Nesbit sisters were travel-ball teammates with current Alabama sophomore infielder Kaila Hunt on the Atlanta Vipers Gold team. Likewise, both Shape and Lenahan played against Hunt in Georgia growing up.
- As a member of the Tampa Mustangs' travel-ball squad, Bulldog sophomore outfielder Briana Bell defeated Alabama sophomores Jackie Traina and Ryan Iamurri by a score of 1-0, when the Crimson Tide duo played for Team North Florida. Briana and her sister, senior designated player Brittany Bell, also played against Alabama senior catcher Kendall Dawson during their high-school careers.
- Alabama senior catcher Olivia Gibson's cousin is Eric Dubose, who was a three-time All-American pitcher for the Mississippi State baseball team (1995-97). To this day, DuBose still holds the school record for career strikeouts (428) and strikeouts in a season (174, 1996).