By DANNY P. SMITH
Mississippi State softball coach Jay Miller was happy to see his team defeat the 22nd-ranked Auburn Tigers on Friday and the reason was more than it being his 1,000th career victory.
All season long, Miller has stressed the importance to the Bulldogs of driving in runs with people on base.
Freshman Heidi Shape delivered for her coach against the Tigers.
With MSU trailing 3-1, Shape hit a pitch from Auburn pitcher Jenee Loree off the scoreboard in left field for a home run in the sixth inning and the Bulldogs went on to a 4-3 decision at the MSU Softball Field.
After driving a ball deep into center for an out in the fourth inning, Shape was hoping for another chance against Loree.
"When I got back up and she got behind in the count, I knew she was going to throw me something good," Shape said. "I was feeling good the whole day so I was glad to get that one."
Ka'ili Smith led off the sixth inning for the Bulldogs with an infield hit, then Sam Lenahan walked with one out before Shape hit the ball out of the park.
After leaving one runner on base in each of the previous four innings, Miller saw MSU get three runs on one swing of the bat.
"We've been getting people on base, but just haven't been getting the big hit when we needed it," Miller said. "I thought Ka'ili Smith did a great job of slapping to get on base to give us an opportunity. We needed somebody on base to get back into the ballgame, Sam walked and Heidi gets the big stick."
The Bulldogs got their first run of the game in the second inning when Lenahan doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ackerman native Chelsea Raines.
Miller believes he has good players for the future of the program in freshmen Lenahan and Shape.
"Sam behind the plate and Heidi at second base have done a good job for us all year," Miller said. "It's always an adjustment when you come in from high school, coming into the Division I level, especially in the SEC and when you start conference play , it's another adjustment," Miller said. "They are doing a great job for us both defensively and offensively."
Shape was proud to be a part of Miller's 1,000th win as Mississippi State improved to 20-19 overall and 8-6 in the Southeastern Conference.
Miller would have liked to have seen his personal milestone come earlier this season, but he has enjoyed coaching the Bulldogs and knows what Friday's triumph means.
"It was a big win obviously with a ranked team coming in to play a series that's going to be very important for us in SEC standings," Miller said. "To get the first one on Friday is big for our ballclub.
"This team has been great to work with. They worked their tails off all year long and it's nice to see the hard work pay off."
The second game of the set begins today's activities of Super Bulldog Weekend with a first pitch set for 11:30 a.m.