SOUTHAVEN – Using the plate as her canvas and the softball as her paintbrush, Mississippi State softball’s Alison Owen painted a brilliant masterpiece Saturday afternoon at Greenbrook Park, breaking the single-game school record with 15 strikeouts in a 4-0 complete-game shutout against Wichita State. In their opening game at the Blues City Classic, the Bulldogs fell in a 4-3 nail-biter to Belmont. With the split, Starkville’s Team moved to 7-4 on the young 2013 season.
“It was so important to bounce back from a tough loss in game one and earn the win in game two,” Head Coach Vann Stuedeman said. “The biggest thing from today were all the Bulldog fans that came out. It was five and six deep and they were all cheering for the Maroon and White. That meant the world.”
Stuedeman coached her 229th career shutout in game two, marking the third time in the first 11 games her pitching staff blanked its opponents on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs had five total shutouts in 57 games last season.
GAME ONE RECAP
Senior Stephanie Becker tied a career high with a season-best 10 strikeouts, but it wasn’t enough, as the Bulldogs fell by a score of 4-3 to Belmont in MSU’s first game at the Blues City Classic.
Becker took the no decision in the start, fanning 10 Bruins’ batters and walking none in 4.2 innings of work. From the first to the third inning, the lefty struck out six-consecutive batters, becoming the second Bulldog pitcher in the last decade to accomplish the feat. Fellow senior southpaw Kylie Vry was the hard-luck loser in relief, falling to 1-2 in 2013 after giving up an unearned run in one inning inside the circle. Belmont righty Taylor Moon improved to 2-0 on the season, while the Bruins moved to 6-3 on the season.
At the plate, juniors Sam Lenahan (1-for-2, walk) and Heidi Shape (1-for-4) both hit solo home runs. Sophomore Ashley Phillips reached base safely for the 10th-consecutive game with a base hit in the first inning, eventually scoring on an RBI sacrifice fly by junior Logan Foulks.
It was the sac fly by Foulks in the top of the first that put MSU on the scoreboard first. Lenahan followed Foulks as the cleanup hitter and crushed a 3-2 pitch well over the wall in centerfield for a 2-0 lead in favor of the Maroon and White.
Belmont cut the deficit in half in the top of the third with a triple by Kimberly Johnson and an RBI single by Kat Hollingsworth. The lead didn’t last long, however, as Shape roped a line drive round-tripper over the fence in center to push the lead back to two at 3-1.
The Bruins tied it in the bottom of the fifth frame against MSU freshman reliever Jacey Punches with two runs off three hits. With one down in the inning, Johnson reached base again via an infield single to shortstop. Pinch runner Kayla Brown scored on a triple down the left-field line by Hollingsworth, who immediately scored on an RBI single up the middle by Kirbie Ferrell.
Deadlocked in a three-all tie going into the bottom of the sixth inning, an unusual chain of events led to the winning run for the home team. Vry entered the game to begin the inning, and struck out five-hole hitter Heather Turner to begin the inning. However, Turner reached first on the uncaught third strike when MSU first baseman Shelby Fisher dropped the throw from Foulks behind the dish. Turner promptly stole second before Ashley Hammer struck out swinging. Just like Turner, Hammer reached first after the strikeout, this time on a passed ball. Heads up base running by Turner allowed her to race across the plate for the winning run.
GAME TWO RECAP
Owen moved to 4-1 on the year with a record-breaking performance vs. WSU, striking out a career-best and school-record 15 strikeouts. The right-hander finally issued her first walk in her debut season in Starkville (one walk in 33.1 innings pitched), while giving up just two hits in her second-straight complete-game shutout as a starter. This past Sunday vs. Lipscomb, Owen tied the previous school record with 14 strikeouts, and now has fanned 29 batters in her last 13 innings of work. Wichita State starter Katie Armagost dropped to 1-6 on the season.
“Alison was Vanntastic today,” Stuedeman explained. “She continued to work her spin and had great command all game long.”
Phillips continued her hot hitting, reaching base safely for the 11th-straight game with a 2-for-4 performance. Lenahan, who is hitting .533 over her last six games (8-of-15), went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. Junior Jessica Offutt (1-for-3, RBI), senior Jessica Cooley (1-for-3, RBI) and redshirt sophomore Briana Bell (1-for-1, RBI) also tallied hits.
State scored its first run of the game off an RBI double to the gap in left by Lenahan, scoring Phillips. The Bulldogs tacked on one more in the third with a bases loaded suicide squeeze bunt by Cooley, plating a safe-sliding Shape.
Leading 2-0 one inning later, Offutt cranked a standup double to straightaway center, allowing sophomore Julia Echols to tap the dish. Bell’s pinch-hit RBI single pushed pinch-runner Loryn Nichols across the plate for the fourth and final run. The RBI by Bell was her first since May 8, 2011.
Stuedeman’s squad closes out the event Sunday with a doubleheader at 9 a.m. against Southeast Missouri State (2-3) and SIU-Edwardsville (4-3). For live in-game updates of MSU’s games in the Blues City Classic, follow the program on Twitter at @MStateSB. For pictures from the Classic, like the team on Facebook at Facebook.com/MStateSB and visit the team’s Instagram account at MStateSB. For pregame and postgame video, check out MSU’s official YouTube channel at YouTube.com/HailState.