Seniors get MSU softball back to NCAA Tournament

Mississippi State's Alexis Silkwood
Staff Writer

Mississippi State’s softball program has grown accustomed to NCAA Tournament appearances to the point where it’s an expectation.
When coach Vann Stuedeman’s team watched the NCAA Tournament selection show last year knowing that they wouldn’t receive an invite for the first time in her five years, they had a sick feeling in their stomachs.
Working to make sure that didn't happen again started with the offseason workouts for the rising seniors Caroline Seitz, Alexis Silkwood, Katie Anne Bailey, Amanda Ivy and Olivia Golden.
That group led the way for the younger Bulldogs to know that failure is not an option from that point forward.
“Not making it last year just gave us more motivation to do it this year,” Seitz said. “We held people accountable more. I don’t think the workouts were harder, but the mindset coming in was definitely different.”
The leadership provided by Stuedeman’s first full recruiting class has been what made them special, she would say. After learning under some crafty veterans who had experienced tremendous success, last year was the first time that group was seemingly on their own.
They learned on the fly what was expected of them.
“Their first two years we really rested on a lot of upperclassmen who really did get us to the postseason," Stuedeman said. "After slipping last year, I think it was vital to them as a group to get us back to the postseason because this was going to be their legacy. Could they do it without Sam Lenahan, Heidi Shape and Allison Owen? They’ve done a great job leading us back.”
Seitz left her legacy in the field and her bat as she finished with All-Southeastern Conference honors and a .318 batting average with 10 doubles, nine home runs and 44 runs batted in during the regular season. Silkwood is the all-time leader at MSU in wins and strikeouts and had another strong year this season at 15-6 with a 1.86 earned run average and 105 strikeouts in 154.1 innings pitched.
She knew on Sunday that the Bulldogs would be called for the NCAA Tournament and it was indeed as they were chosen for the Salt Lake City Regional hosted by Utah. BYU is first on the docket for MSU as it hopes to continue through the season.
Before even thinking about the next opponent, Silkwood had a chance to reflect on the year that was and the hard work put in to get the team back where it belonged.
“Not everything in life is granted and not every season is going to be a great season,” Silkwood said. “You can’t take anything for granted because you only get four years, so it was nice to be able to know that (Sunday) was going to be a success.”
What’s left for the legacy of Silkwood, Seitz and the rest of the seniors is getting MSU (36-20) to a Super Regional, which has never been done before. From there, they can start to fight for a national title for the first time in school history.
After last year’s sobering finish that had the Bulldogs with a losing record and out of the tournament, just being one of 64 teams is something that Silkwood can count a success.
“It was utter shock, disappointment and like we were in the twilight zone," Silkwood said about last year. "It was something that we didn’t ever want to feel again. We want to take our team somewhere it’s never been before and accomplish goals that we never have. We’re excited about that opportunity.”