The Mississippi State Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with the third-ranked softball team in the country Wednesday afternoon.
Even though the Bulldogs dropped a doubleheader to the Florida Gators 1-0 and 8-5 to open Southeastern Conference play at the MSU Softball Field, they left the competition confident.
The Bulldogs were out-scored by the Gators 26-1 in the two games played in Gainesville last season so a 9-5 difference in this year's meetings was a marked improvement.
"We said we are going to come out and play with everything we have," MSU softball coach Vann Stuedeman said. "Stephanie Becker was great (Wednesday). She gave us an opportunity to win the game."
After hurling a complete-game, three-hitter in the first game, Becker came back to toss five more innings in the second contest. She threw 188 pitches in the process.
Becker had the strike-out pitch going with 14 total over the two games.
"Coach Vann was calling great pitches and K.K. (Ka'ili Smith) was good behind the plate," Becker said. "We were together and communicating."
In the second game, Florida jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but the Bulldogs got their first run on an RBI single by Sam Lenahan.
After the Gators put up two more runs in the second frame to increase their lead to 6-1, MSU closed the gap to 6-5 with four runs on three hits in the bottom of the second. Lenahan had a two-run single, while Smith drove in a run with a single and Erin Nesbit added an RBI double.
That was all of the runs the Bulldogs got as Alyssa Bache and Hannah Rogers kept the home team scoreless over the final 5 1/3 innings.
Rogers, who threw 101 pitches in the first game victory, earned the save in the second game and had 11 combined strikeouts.
"You have to credit Hannah Rogers because she is a great pitcher," Stuedeman said. "She pitched at the World Series and you can't replace that kind of experience."
Florida got Rogers a couple of insurance runs in the sixth of the second game.
MSU had six hits in the second game with Lenahan having the only multiple-hit outing.
"We just have to get back to the drawing board and into the box a little bit," Stuedeman said. "I think we can take that experience offensively, grow with that and get better and better. We realize we have a lot of room to get better, but at the same time, we're fighting a good battle."
The Bulldogs, which fell to 14-7 overall, host Georgia in a three-game series Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Florida 1, MSU 0
The only run of the game for the Gators came home in the fifth inning as Katie Medina walked on a 3-2 pitch and she scored on a triple to rightfield by Jess Damico.
The throw from rightfielder Brittany Gates to second baseman Heidi Shape and catcher Ka'ili Smith at the plate appeared to be in time.
Smith tagged Medina high and the umpire called safe.
Becker gave up one run on three hits with eight strikeout and three walks.
Even though losing a one-run decision was tough, Becker looked at the positives.
"I think we grew as a team a lot and gave us a lot of confidence," Becker said. "We're going to go at Georgia as hard as we can this weekend and we are excited about it."
Erin Nesbit had the only for MSU with a fifth-inning single.