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By LEE ADAMS
Mississippi State ended their 2011 fall softball season undefeated.
After the Bulldogs swept Southern Mississippi 4-0, 3-2 on Saturday, they finished 6-0.
State picked up game one of the doubleheader, and held USM to only one scoring threat, when they loaded the bases in the top of the fifth. However, starting pitcher Stephanie Becker struck out the next three batters to end the inning. After the scoring threat was shut down, the Bulldogs added two runs in the bottom of the inning when Ka'ili Smith hit a wall scraping double that scored two runs and sealed the win.
Getting the the last win wasn't an easy task for MSU as it turned out to be a struggle.
The Bulldogs ended up taking the victory in walk-off fashion.
MSU took an early lead in game two when Briana Bell drew a bases loaded walk. However, that would be the only run that inning as the Bulldogs stranded three base runners, which is something that new head coach Vann Stuedeman didn't like to see.
"We stranded three runs in the first inning and the only run we scored was on a walk," said Stuedeman. "We definitely have to get better on that because we can't leave the bases loaded with one out. I think our girls realize we have to take advantage of the opportunities when they're handed to us."
The Golden Eagles were threatening in the top of the second, but former East Webster player Swayze Hollenhead made a diving grab at third and made a perfect throw across the diamond for the final out of the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Sam Lenahan hit a RBI single up the middle to extend State's lead to 2-0. MSU held that advantage until the top of the fourth, when USM plated two runs.
Now tied at 2-2, the game moved into the fifth and final inning, and Stuedeman put Becker back in the circle to keep the Golden Eagles scoreless in the top of the inning. After Becker shut down USM's offense, it was the Bulldogs turn to swing the sticks.
Smith started things off for State with a one-out single and Hollenhead followed by reaching on an error, putting the game-winning run in scoring position. Jessica Offutt, who came in to pinch run for Smith, and Hollenhead stole second and third on a failed bunt attempt by Ball. Ball then hit a grounder to the shortstop who tried to throw Offutt out at the plate, but the throw was late, giving the Bulldogs the win and the sweep to remain undefeated.
"We have a lot of room to get better obviously, but I'm impressed and proud of their resiliency and their competitive nature," said Stuedeman. "We just don't go away, we are going to stay in it and we pride ourself in being the best team in the late innings."
The Bulldogs used five pitchers in Saturday's doubleheader, but Becker picked up both wins and recorded 10-plus strikeouts while allowed no runs in 6 2/3 innings of work.
"We had awesome pitching by Becker," said Hollenhead.
The difference between last weekend and this one was day and night, as the offense seemed to shine seven days ago, but it was the defense stepped up on Saturday.
"Last weekend we had some defensive miscues so we spent time this week working on our defense," said Stuedeman. "It's nice to see us put together what we focused on during the week and we played great defense and I'm proud of what they've done to embrace us as a new staff."
Stuedeman, who said on Friday she didn't think she would be able to sleep much before Saturday's game due to her excitement, had more to be excited about as she coached her team to a doubleheader sweep in her first games in Starkville. The day seemed to be made even more special to Stuedeman because of all the support from the crowd.
"It was so fun," said Stuedeman. "I'd like to thank all the fans for coming. We had some great people in the stands and it's nice to know you have a lot of people rooting for you."