Softball season ends, but life goes on for MSU Bulldogs

MSU softball coach Vann Stuedeman and senior Morgan Bell
Staff Writer

It was a season like no other for Mississippi State softball.

Last Sunday, the Bulldogs bowed out of the NCAA Tournament following a 4-3 loss to Arizona. That defeat put to bed one of the most trying, difficult seasons that could be imagined. In the moments following MSU’s final loss, head coach Vann Stuedeman did her best to exhale and begin digesting it all.

“We’re all going to need about five minutes or five days to come down off that emotion,” Stuedeman told reporters.

The exhilarating wins and tough losses on the field were just a part of the rollercoaster that was State’s 2018 season. Sure, there were plenty of those. The Bulldogs finished the year with a 38-23 overall record. Included in that victory total was MSU’s first Southeastern Conference Tournament game win since 2005. That was also the same season Mississippi State last advanced to championship Sunday in an NCAA Regional prior to doing so last weekend.

However State’s ride this year was so much more than what happened between the lines. Off the field, freshman outfielder Alex Wilcox continued what has been a two-plus year battle with ovarian cancer. That and more weighed on MSU heavily all season long. It was unlike anything Stuedeman had experienced before. Through it all, she did her best to make sure her players knew she valued them as individuals, not just as players.

“When I went to college, no teammate of mine was gravely ill,” Stuedeman said. “No teammate of mine had cancer. No teammate of mine had lost their parents while college-aged. Nobody’s parents were sick.

“It just seems like that’s becoming more and more a thing. We have a kid on our team with no parents. We have a kid on our team whose mother died when she was a sophomore. We have a kid on our team whose mother is head to toe with cancer. We have a kid on our team who is head to toe with cancer. I’d like to think I handled them all just like they’d want me to handle them – as people first.”

How did Stuedeman do with it all? Even she seems a bit unsure.

“It is something that is consciously at the front of your mind on a daily basis,” Stuedeman said. “How is this player and how are her friends and support system? There is a lot of worry off the field on my part. I’d like to think I handled it well.

“I’d like to think I handled it ok, but do you really know?”

If Stuedeman’s club’s on-field performance was any indication, she navigated the choppy waters more than admirably. Outside of the wins, Mississippi State also set team records in total home runs (55) and shutouts (19). Senior pitcher Holly Ward set the single-season record for shutouts by one player (nine). Freshman Mia Davidson became MSU’s new single-season home run champ with 19.

“When you have some other things that are happening off the field (it’s amazing to) still be able to see these kids do what they did on the field,” Stuedeman said.

Therein paints the picture of exactly why Sunday was so emotional for Stuedeman and the rest of the Bulldogs. Like with any college team, the end of a season is a bit of a goodbye. A family is broken up as seniors and others go their separate ways. No matter what, that’s almost always a bittersweet moment.

Maybe never has that been the case as much as it is for the 2018 softball Bulldogs. It’s a unit that overcame so much, and for Wilcox and others, their fights go on.

Whether it’s on the diamond or off, Stuedeman seems prepared to be right there when needed.

“These kids are incredible,” Stuedeman said. “I’d go anywhere with any of them.”