Mississippi State softball's Briana Bell broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the seventh with a two-RBI double and Heidi Shape knocked in another on a sacrifice fly in the next at-bat, as the Bulldogs outlasted Syracuse, 4-1, Sunday afternoon at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. With a perfect 5-0 weekend at the 2013 D9 Citrus Classic, the Maroon and White improved to 14-4 on the season, the best mark through 18 games since the 2008 squad began 15-3 and recorded the second 40-win season in school history.
"I am tremendously proud of the resiliency this team showed this weekend and today," head coach Vann Stuedeman said. "We refuse to go away from the first pitch to the last pitch and that showed in all five victories."
Coming off the 14th no-hitter in school history Saturday, junior Alison Owen had another stellar outing Sunday against the Orange. The right-hander picked up her third complete-game victory, in as many starts on the weekend, tallying 10 strikeouts and one walk for her eighth triumph in the circle this year. On the weekend, the reigning SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week went 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA, holding opponents to a microscopic .097 batting average.
Picking up hits at the dish for State were Bell (1-for-4, 2 RBI), Shape (1-for-3, RBI), junior Logan Foulks (1-for-4, RBI), senior Shelby Fisher (1-for-3, run) and freshman Loryn NIchols (1-for-3, run). Underclassmen Kayla Winkfield and Ashley Phillips scored runs for the Maroon and White as well. Foulks ended the five-win weekend 9-for-17 (.529) with six RBIs, four runs and three home runs.
After Syracuse jumped out to a 1-0 lead, the Bulldogs' offense started barking in the top half of the sixth inning. Shape went shopping at the gap in left field with a one-out double, before being pinch ran for by Winkfield. Winkfield, the speedster out of Texas, scored on the next pitch as Foulks rifled an RBI single to center field, tying the game.
Deadlocked in a one-all tie in the final frame, the Bully Bombers went to work. Fisher slapped an infield chopper for a single with one out and advanced to third when Nichols slapped an infield single of her own and sprinted to second on a throwing error by the Orange third baseman. Phillips pinch hit for junior Jessica Offutt and loaded the bases with a walk on a 3-2 pitch.
With the bases juiced and one down, Bell slashed a two-RBI double down the left-field line, giving MSU a lead it would never relinquish. State tacked one more final run when Shape drove in Phillips on a sacrifice fly.
With the 5-0 Sunshine State sweep under its belt, Starkville's team returns home to the MSU Softball Stadium for a four-game homestand, beginning with a non-conference matchup against Memphis on Wednesday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m. State concludes the homestand with the SEC series opener against nationally-ranked LSU March 8-10.
For live in-game updates of MSU's homestand this upcoming week, follow the program on Twitter at @MStateSB. For pictures, 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.
Falling down by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Bulldogs stormed back and made it a competitive finish, before falling 74-65 to Auburn in the final Southeastern Conference regular season contest for both teams at the Auburn Arena.
MSU (13-16 overall, 5-11 SEC) earns the No. 12 seed in the SEC Tournament and will face Alabama at 5 p.m. CT Wednesday in Duluth, Ga. The game will be broadcast regionally by Fox Sports Net South and may be heard locally through the Bulldog Sports Network on WNMQ-FM (103.1).
MSU were playing fresh off a 50-38 upset win over No. 11 Georgia in the Humphrey Coliseum Thursday night. However, the Bulldogs could not build on that momentum.
"We just weren't ready to play," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "You don't have to blame anyone, or look any further than me. We came out and weren't ready to play when the lights came on. We haven't had a good practice the last couple of days, which is typical of a young, inexperienced basketball team coming off a great win. I give Auburn a lot of credit. They really executed and forced us into 31 turnovers."
After allowing 38 points total to Georgia, MSU gave up that many in the first half Sunday. Auburn shot 55.6 percent from the floor in the first half and blitzed out to a 40-24 halftime advantage.
MSU began the second half with a 12-2 run. A 3-pointer by Jerica James, followed by two free throws by James, had the Bulldogs within 42-36 with 16:20 left in the contest.
A jumper in the lane by Martha Alwal had MSU within 44-40 with 14:13 remaining.
An old-fashioned 3-point play by James brought MSU within 48-45. Auburn (16-13, 5-11) finally righted the ship and scored the game's next eight points. A 3-pointer by Blanche Alverson ran the Tigers' advantage to 56-45 with 9:38 left.
Still, MSU hung tough and closed within six on two occasions in the final 6:46.
"We obviously struggled against their zone press most of the day," Schaefer said. "I think that was the key, and our inability guard Alverson on the perimeter. Those were really the biggest disappointments for me. Again, that's my inability in preparing this team, and we just have to find a way to bounce back."
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 48 shots from the field (51.2 percent), 3 of 8 shots from 3-point range (37.5 percent) and 12 of 14 shots from the foul line (85.7 percent). The Tigers hit 25 of 52 shots from the field (48.1 percent), 6 of 13 shots from 3-point range (46.2 percent) and 18 of 23 shots from the foul line (78.3 percent).
MSU held a 30-26 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 31 turnovers, while the Tigers had 22 assists and 23 turnovers.
Alverson paced Auburn with 32 points, while Tyrese Tanner added 19 points.
For MSU, Alwal notched her 16th double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Kendra Grant also added 15 points, while James and Carnecia Williams each added 12 points.
Now, all thoughts turn to the postseason.
"We're going to embrace that opportunity and go do it," Schaefer said. "We're excited about it and look forward to playing on Wednesday, when no one else is playing. I'm sure Alabama will be ready for us, and it will be a great opportunity for both teams."
In a notoriously tough battle in Southeastern Conference matches, the No. 10 Mississippi State men's tennis squad (12-2, 2-0 SEC) defeated No. 31 Alabama (9-5, 0-2 SEC) 4-2 Sunday afternoon to sweep its opening weekend of conference play.
Looking for their third straight SEC West crown, the Maroon and White now return home for a crucial four-match stretch of SEC play at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre, during which State will host four top 25 teams, and three in the top 10 nationally. The Bulldogs will entertain No. 8 Tennessee (March 8, 2 p.m.) and No. 9 Georgia (March 10, 1 p.m.) next weekend, before welcoming No. 25 Vanderbilt (March 15, 2 p.m.) and No. 6 Kentucky (March 17, 1 p.m.) the following weekend.
With Sunday's win, State won its third consecutive match against Alabama and improved to 28-24 all-time, and 13-11 on the road, against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama took an early lead after clinching the doubles point with wins on courts one and two. UA's top duo of Jarryd Botha and David Veiyra upset MSU's No. 24 tandem of Jordan Angus and Malte Stropp 8-5 to start doubles play. The Crimson Tide then clinched the point with an 8-6 victory on court two from their duo of Becker O'Shaughnessey and Daniil Proskura against State's Zach White and Ethan Wilkinson.
Play on court three was abandoned, with UA's Philippe Tsangarides and Stuart Kenyon leading MSU's Romain Bogaerts and Pedro Dumont 8-7.
With play turning to singles, State would need four victories to sweep their SEC-opening road trip. The Bulldogs came out firing, taking the first set on all courts except for No. 2.
MSU freshman Stefan Vinti made quick work of his opponent, UA's Tsangarides, defeating him 6-3, 6-0 on court four to level the team score at 1-1. MSU's top singles player, No. 23 Bogaerts, defeated the Crimson Tide's Proskura 6-1, 6-4 to then give the Bulldogs the lead.
Following soon after was a 6-1, 7-6(1) victory from Bulldog freshman Dumont against UA's Kenyon. The win put MSU up 3-1 with a chance to clinch on either courts two, three or five, but the Crimson Tide would not go down without a fight, as the final three contests of the day all went to third sets.
On court two, State's No. 93 James Chaudry battled back-and-forth with No. 100 Botha. Botha took the first set 6-4, but the MSU senior would answer back in a strong manner, taking the second 6-3. The two would fight to a 3-3 tie before Botha went on to take the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to cut the MSU lead to 3-2.
On court five, MSU's White battled Vieyra of Alabama. White took the first easily and held a 5-3 lead in the second before Vieyra came back to force a final set. The two traded games, eventually ending up in a third-set tiebreaker. As it was all match, the two clashed for an exciting finish, with White finally taking the win 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), clinching the win for MSU.
Play on court three was suspended once the match was clinched, with UA's O'Shaughnessey leading MSU's Angus 6-7(6), 7-5, 5-3.
"The team did a great job bouncing back after losing the doubles point," head coach Per Nilsson said. "We built a big lead, but let a few of them slip away. We were fortunate to get out of there with a win. Now we need a really good week of practice to get ready for next weekend."
For more information on Mississippi State men's tennis, follow the Bulldogs on Twitter (www.twitter.com/mstatemt) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/mstatemt).
Track and Field
In a field of the nation's most elite sprinters, senior D'Angelo Cherry raced an unforgettable 60-meter dash at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships on Sunday, turning in a personal-best time of 6.49 seconds to crown him champion.
"There is no one more deserving of a performance like tonight than Mr. Cherry," coach Steve Dudley said. "He has battled through a lot to experience this moment. The entire Mississippi State nation should be very proud that a person can truly persevere through anything."
Bouncing back from last season's physical obstacles, Cherry said he has refused to let past injuries affect his mission toward the future.
"I have trained very hard on the off-season," the sprinter said. "I was hoping for a time of 6.55 seconds today, but 6.49 was unexpected."
With Cherry's championship performance, the Jonesboro, Ga., native secured his ticket to the 2013 NCAA Indoor National Championships on March 7-9 in Fayetteville.
"I'm all smiles," Cherry said. "I couldn't be happier."
Mississippi State's Lady Bulldog tennis team (5-4, 0-2 SEC) fought hard and registered a pair of impressive wins over ranked opponents, but ultimately fell 6-1 to No. 5 Alabama (10-1, 2-0) Sunday afternoon at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre.
The Lady Bulldogs competed very well with the Tide in doubles competition, nearly taking the point with an upset win on court 1 and a neck-and-neck match on court 3.
MSU freshmen Sarai Flores and Lien Van Geel were the first to complete competition, falling in an 8-0 decision to Alabama's duo of Maya Jansen and Natalia Maynetto at the No. 2 position. Alexandra Perper and Naomi Tran for the Lady Bulldogs then evened the score with a huge win at the top spot. The MSU pair took down Alabama's No. 4 nationally-ranked duo of Alexa Guarachi and May Anne Macfarlane in a dominant 8-3 decision.
MSU's Petra Ferancova and Georgiana Patrasc then fought with Alabama's Antonia Foehse and Emily Zabor at the No. 3 position to the very end. After getting down 7-3 in the match, the State tandem fought back to 7-6 and very nearly broke back to even the match. But after three deuce points, the Alabama duo won 8-6, giving UA the 1-0 lead.
Singles play began with a promising outlook on several courts for the Lady Bulldogs as both Patrasc and Tran took their first sets against ranked opponents on courts 2 and 3.
Court 1 was the first to complete singles play with a 6-1, 6-3 win for No. 20 Macfarlane of Alabama against MSU's Perper. The Tide's lead was extended to 3-0 as Foehse defeated Lady Bulldog Ferancova 6-1, 6-1 at the No. 4 position.
MSU's Van Geel took an early 3-1 lead in the first set on court 5 before dropping the match 6-3, 6-0 to Alabama sophomore Zabor, clinching the Tide's victory.
Lady Bulldog sophomore Naomi Tran took the first set on court 3 in a 6-3 decision against Alabama's No. 77 ranked Jansen, but was unable to carry the momentum, falling 6-2 in the second set and 1-0(3) in the deciding super tiebreaker.
MSU rookie Patrasc notched her second impressive victory of the weekend, taking down No. 36 Guarachi on court 2. Patrasc won the first set 6-2 before claiming the second in a tiebreaker and the match 6-2, 7-6(7) to put the Lady Bulldogs on the board.
Roseline Dion of MSU fell 6-1, 6-3 against Alabama's No. 106 ranked Maynetto at the No. 6 position to complete the day's competition.
Head coach Daryl Greenan was pleased with several aspects of the day's competition.
"We fought hard today and had some stellar individual highlights," said Greenan. "Tran and Perper gave us some hope in doubles beating the No. 4 team in the country proving that they can play among the best. I am also very proud of Georgiana for the big win over Alabama's senior and No. 36 ranked player. We didn't get the win, but we got better. We need to use this match to give us confidence moving forward in SEC play."
State will continue SEC action next weekend when they travel to take on No. 57 Tennessee on Friday and No. 7 Georgia on Sunday.
Updates for all Lady Bulldog tennis action is available through twitter @mstateWT and through LiveStats at hailstate.com.