By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Vann Stuedeman is embracing her return to Tuscaloosa.
Mississippi State’s first-year softball coach takes her team into familiar territory today in the SEC Tournament, where she’ll face host team Alabama, for whom Stuedeman was an assistant coach for 11 years.
On Wednesday, Stuedeman took the team to nearby Alberta City to aid in cleanup from last year’s deadly tornados, and then she visited an elderly couple she’s known for years, who Stuedeman called her “surrogate grandparents.”
“I’m just extremely excited about going there,” she said. “I know that those fans look forward to our success as long as we’re not playing them.”
Tonight, of course, fans of No. 1 seed Alabama (47-7, 23-5 SEC) will be rooting against No. 8 seed MSU (33-21, 12-16). The game starts at 7 and will air on ESPN.
Last time these teams met, in the regular season, the Crimson Tide swept three games in Starkville, by scores of 5-4, 4-2 and 9-3.
Stuedeman liked the way her team played that weekend but wasn’t pleased that such effort was not being given every game. After that series, the effort improved, and State has won 14 of 17 games since then.
“We might’ve played some of our best softball in that series,” Stuedeman said. “And it seemed to catapult us into a strong late season.”
The Lady Bulldogs will lean heavily on a much improved pitching staff, which is led by left-handers Stephanie Becker (18-10, 2.50) and Kylie Vry (9-7, 3.46). MSU’s team ERA is 2.85, including 2.31 over the last 17 games.
Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said that MSU has “so many lefties in there to throw so many different pitches, that it’s very, very tough to adjust when they bring somebody in new.
“You’ve got to make it quick, because before you know it she might change again, and then you’ve got to adjust again to another pitcher.”