The Mississippi State Bulldogs were searching for the right person in the circle to shut down the offense of the No. 1 team in the nation Sunday.
It never really happened against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Bulldogs used five different pitchers, but Alabama found a way to score nine runs during the course of the game and won a 9-3 decision at the MSU Softball Stadium.
The Crimson Tide only had six hits against the Bulldogs, but two of them were home runs, including a grand slam by Danae Hays in the six-run fourth inning.
"Day three in this conference is really tough on the pitching and you usually see a lot more offense from both sides," MSU softball coach Vann Stuedeman said. "They had a key timely home run and we had a home run as well, but they had it with the bases juiced. It's just that timely moment of a hit that we need to put us over the hump."
Stuedeman tipped her hat to Alabama pitcher Jackie Traina, who got the win in two of the three games over the weekend. She worked six innings on Sunday and gave up one earned run on seven hits.
"She threw great all weekend," Stuedeman said of Traina. "Hats off to Alabama because they just don't have a break in the lineup. That's why they are No. 1 in the nation and we wish them the best as we go on through the year."
The Tide improved to 35-1 overall and 12-1 in the Southeastern Conference, while the Bulldogs fell to 19-18 and 3-13.
MSU catcher Ka'ili Smith was pleased that her team could compete with the No. 1 team in the nation, only losing 4-2 and 5-4 in games one and two, but likes the fight the Bulldogs are showing.
Smith had two of the nine hits for Mississippi State, but she felt there was more she should have done.
"We're never happy with a loss," Smith said. "I didn't go 4-ror-4, but 2-for-4 so my team needs me on every single time. It's very disappointing because we didn't get the W, but I am proud of my team for fighting for the full seven innings and three games."
After Alabama scored one run on two hits in the first inning, the Bulldogs tied the game in the third on an RBI single by Smith.
The Crimson Tide jumped out to a 7-1 advantage with the six-run third frame. Along with Hays' grand slam, Kaila Hunt had a solo home run.
MSU scored two more runs in the game, one on an RBI single by Brittany Gates in the fourth and the last on a solo home run by Brittany Bell in the seventh. Alabama countered those tallies with single runs in the sixth and seventh.
Gates, Smith and Sam Lenahan had two singles each, but the Bulldogs couldn't bunch enough up to create damage against the Alabama defense.
"We're hitting the ball and hitting it well, but we've just got to figure out a way to keep the opponents runs down a little bit and keep on surviving offensively," Stuedeman said. "That timely hit is going to come."
MSU travels to Ridgeland on Wednesday for a non-conference game against in-state rival Southern Mississippi at 6:30 p.m.