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SMITH COLUMN: MSU softball makes strides during season

May 12, 2012

Smith

The school's best April on record, a perfect 8-0 mark against in-state competition, a 13-game winning streak against non-conference opponents, a nine-game improvement over last season in the overall win column and a two-game improvement in wins during the Southeastern Conference season.

Those are just some of the accomplishments of the Mississippi State softball team under the leadership of coach Vann Stuedeman this season.

After struggling to a 24-32 mark in 2011, the Bulldogs were able to almost flip-flop that record this season and stand 33-22. That's expected to be good enough to land them a spot in the NCAA Tournament when the pairings are announced tonight on ESPNU.

The numbers tell the story of the success of MSU, but to really get a sense of the difference Stuedeman has made with the program, it's really noticeable on the field.

The Bulldogs are showing more fight and determination than has been witnessed in most recent history.

There was a good example of that during last Thursday's 5-2 loss to Alabama, the No. 3 team in the country and the SEC regular season champion.

Down 5-0 in the fifth inning, MSU's Jessica Offutt made a catch robbing the Crimson Tide of a three-run home run that would have ended the game with the eight-run rule.

The Bulldogs came back with two runs of their own to cut the margin to 5-2, but couldn't get any closer.

There were many who left Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that night with an appreciation for what Mississippi State was able to do.

Bulldogs like Ka'ili Smith, Jessica Cooley, Brittany Bell and Stephanie Becker have really turned their games up a notch this season and have made a difference in the turnaround.

Stuedeman has got the MSU players believing in a specific plan for success and it seems to be working.

The Bulldogs accomplished their first 30-win season since 2008 and Stuedeman has achieved the best winning percentage by a first-year coach in school history.

Kyle Niblett, MSU's media contact for softball, does a good job of keeping everyone updated on the key notes about the program and it's interesting to see where the Bulldogs stand in certain categories.

Mississippi State is ranked in the top 10 in 10 different single-season team records, including runs per game, home runs per game, home runs, slugging percentage, stolen bases per game, stolen bases, stolen base percentage, and the school record for single-season walks, walks per game, and strikeout ratio.

Much of the reason for that is the excitement and energy Stuedeman has brought to MSU softball, much like what coach Dan Mullen has done for football.

Stuedeman expects her players to give effort and play for the moment. That is what she preaches and the Bulldogs have bought in.

That's what will make MSU a very dangerous opponent for any team that faces it in the NCAA Tournament next week.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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