Mississippi State head coach Vann Stuedeman yells out to her team against Alabama. (Photo by Michelle Lepianka Carter, The Tuscaloosa News, AP)
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. â€“ The Mississippi State Bulldogs didn't allow the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide to run away with Thursday night's first-round matchup in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Alabama had much going for it with a huge crowd at its home stadium and even more tuning in on ESPN, but that didn't seem to shake up the visitors.
In front of a crowd of 2,591 at the Rhoads Softball Complex, the Bulldogs took the Tide to the limit, but still walked away on the losing end 5-2.
"I am incredibly proud and my heart swells for the Mississippi State Bulldogs," MSU softball coach Vann Stuedeman said. "We fought hard and played great on national television."
State saw its record fall to 33-22, while Alabama improved to 48-7.
Jackie Traina, the pitcher for the Tide, proved to be tough on the Bulldogs as she only allowed five hits and recorded eight strikeouts.
"The combinations that she threw, then back outside with her screwball," MSU's Ka'ili Smith said about Traina's effort. "She's a great pitcher and just seeing her this game set us up for next week when we get a bid. They are a great team and hats off to them. The game is the game and we were going to come out fighting, then see what happens."
After two scoreless innings, Alabama took advantage of an error and three-straight singles to score three runs in the third inning.
The Crimson Tide added two runs on three hits in the fourth to take a 5-0 lead.
The Bulldogs answered with two runs in the sixth inning when Sam Lenahan doubled to drive in Heidi Shape, who led off the frame with a triple. Lenahan scored on a single by Jessica Cooley.
"It's something we've done all year in finishing strong," Stuedeman said of rallying for two runs. "We don't go away and we want to battle. It shows the will, fight and desire. They are just super impressive young ladies."
Shape's triple and Lenahan's double were the only two extra base hits for MSU.
Lindsey Dunlap worked four innings of relief for the Bulldogs and kept the game within striking distance. She had six strikeouts.
"She's so talented and won three state championships in Alabama," Stuedeman said about Dunlap, a Hueytown, Ala., native. "I'm really happy for her in finishing her senior year strong. It's like she flipped a switch starting April 1 and has been lights out ever since."
MSU starting pitcher Stephanie Becker could only go one inning when she had to leave the game with an injury.
Even though the injury was not believed to be serious, Stuedeman removed Becker from the game as a precaution.
"We think it might be a little something in her grip with her hand so we're going to wait it out and see," Stuedeman said. "She's a warrior and will do anything to be out there and pitch."
Becker gets a chance to rest as the Bulldogs now await word on Sunday night if they are included in the 64-team field for the NCAA Tournament.
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