Showing a national-television audience what the true heart of a champion looks like, the Mississippi State softball team took No. 4 Alabama to the edge of defeat, before falling to the defending national champions in a 9-8 thriller Sunday afternoon at Rhoads Stadium. The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 29-16 overall and 7-11 in the Southeastern Conference, while the Crimson Tide improved to 40-7 overall and 12-6 in SEC play.
"Our kids can go home tonight and put their head on their pillow and pass the pillow test," Head Coach Vann Stuedeman said. "They were excellent. It just did not fall their way. That is how it goes sometimes in life, the real world and sports."
Down 6-1 after the first two innings on Fox Sports South, State tallied a trio of two-out RBIs in the fourth, and added two more runs in the fifth to tie the game at six. The comeback marked the first time the Maroon and White erased a five-run deficit in a game since beating Florida State on March 11, 2011. Ironically enough, the final score of 9-8 against the Seminoles was the same as Sunday's final score vs. Alabama and also took place in Rhoads Stadium, as part of the SEC/ACC Challenge.
Deadlocked in a 6-6 tie in the second-to-last inning, and the series hanging in the balance, Alabama's Haylie McCleney sent the crowd of 3,814 into a frenzy with a go-ahead two-run home run, giving Alabama an 8-6 lead heading to the last frame.
The lead would not last long, however, as MSU's Briana Bell connected on a Brickyard barrel, driving in Heidi Shape and herself with her eighth homer of the season. The crowd silencer evened the battle between the pair of Highway 82 rivals at eight apiece.
Bulldog center fielder Loryn NIchols threw out the would-be game-winning run at the plate for the second out of the bottom of the seventh, giving the Bulldogs one more out until extra-inning softball. With MSU honoring the late Mal Moore with No. 15 decals on their helmets, it was Alabama's No. 15, Danae Hays that drove in the game-winning run with a single to the gap in left. State left fielder Jessica Offutt stretched out all of her 5-foot-5 body to make the Superman-type catch, but the ball trickled just off the edge of her Easton glove for the walk-off loss.
Mississippi State finished the game with 10 hits off 2012 SEC Pitcher of the Year Jackie Traina, the most given up all season by the right-hander. Last year's Women's College World Series Most Outstanding Player also surrendered a career-high tying seven earned runs (eight total) to the Bulldogs' offense.
Bell, Lenahan and Shape each went 2-for-4 at the dish, while senior right fielder Jessica Cooley finished her impressive week 1-for-2 with a solo home run and two walks in the series finale. In four games in her home state this past week, Cooley hit .600 (6-for-10) with nine RBIs, four home runs, five runs scored, three walks and a triple.
Alabama's Leslie Jury picked up her second win in as many days, improving to 15-3 on the year. State junior right-hander Alison Owen was the hard-luck loser, falling to 15-8 after giving up three runs on six hits in 5.2 innings of work.
With the heartbreaking defeat, MSU dropped to 3-10 against RPI Top-20 teams. Half of the losses have come by just one run. State was 1-16 vs. the same competition last season, with only three of the 16 losses coming by a single run.
Tying the program's best finish in the SEC Championships, the Mississippi State women's golf team posted a 58-over-par 922 at Greystone Country Club to earn a share of fifth-place along with No. 34 Kentucky.
After notching an 18-over 306 during Friday's first round, the Lady Bulldogs posted a 303 for the second round and climbed to second entering the final round. MSU managed a 313 on Sunday to hold onto its Top 5 card.
Not only did the share of fifth place tie the best conference finish from the 2000 championships, but it also broke the school record for consecutive Top 10 finishes as State has posted a Top 10 card in all 10 events it has appeared in this season.
Second-ranked Alabama ran away with the conference championship claiming a 14-stroke victory against second-place No. 18 Georgia. The Crimson Tide were the only team to post a sub-300 card, a 293 in the second round.
Entering the SEC Championship, MSU was 2-10-1 against the SEC on the season but posted an 8-4-1 ledger against the conference this weekend.
"I could not have asked for more from the team this weekend," third-year MSU coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said. "All season we have preached focusing on one shot at a time and sticking to a routine and this weekend each and everyone of the girls accomplished that.
"I cannot express how proud I am of these girls, this program and Mississippi State. They never gave in throughout the whole season and kept working and fighting. I'm so glad they were able to see the benefits of all that hard work this weekend.
"Other schools and recruits are starting to recognize where this program is going and what we can accomplish here. We will enjoy our successes this weekend, but tomorrow starts a new week. We will be back at work preparing for our next step."
No. 34 Ally McDonald posted a 7-over-par 79 to secure a share of third place after posting a 77 and 70 during the first two rounds. It is the standout sophomore's second-consecutive Top 3 finish and fifth Top 5 tally in the last seven events.
"Ally is the epitome of a Bulldog," Brown-Lemm said. "She grinds it out every tournament and can compete with the best in the nation. I'm very proud of her and the way she played. Ally will win the conference title one day. She is too talented and too determined not to."
State also had two other Top 25 cards from Rica Tse and Mary Langdon Gallagher. Tse used a 1-over-par 73 Sunday to climb into a share of eighth place, her best finish of the season.
Gallagher stormed out of the gates during the opening round, posting a 3-over-par 75 and leading MSU on the leaderboard. After notching a 75 and 82 during the final two rounds, the junior secured a share of 19th place, which is also a season-best for her.
Sophomore Elena Warren (77-84-80) and freshman Gabi Oubre' (81-80-84) capped the Lady Bulldogs' leaderboard with a 241 and 245, respectively.
No. 2 Stephanie Meadow of Alabama claimed the individual crown with a 216, while Sarah Harris of Kentucky posted a 225 for runner-up honors.
The Lady Bulldogs will await the NCAA Regional field to be announced Monday, April 29. Although they have not appeared in postseason play as a team since 2006, this week's strong showing all but solidifies their spot in this year's field.
"Coming into this weekend, I already thought we were in a good position," Brown-Lemm said. "After the way we played and the teams we beat, I feel very confident that we will continue our season in a couple of weeks at a regional."
Until then, fans can follow the women's golf program on Twitter, @mstateWG, and on Facebook at facebook.com/mstateWG.
While fighting 35 MPH winds at the Sea Island Golf Course, junior Chad Ramey turned in the best SEC Championship finish of his career with his sixth place card.
Ramey's 1-over-par 211 for the weekend helped guide No. 25 Mississippi State to a fifth-place finish, the best finish since the 2007-2008 squad also claimed the fifth spot.
State's 26-over 866 at Sea Island was only two strokes back of fourth-place No. 21 Texas A&M. Second-ranked Alabama repeated as champion with an 8-over 848.
"I am really proud of my team and the way they handled the conditions today to end up with a fifth-place finish," coach Clay Homan said. "The course played extremely difficult with 35 MPH winds all day. Both Axel and Barrett really stepped up today to lead us. They were really steady and gave us the boost we needed. This tournament just capped off a great year and these guys can't wait to get in the postseason."
Ramey, who was tied for second going into Sunday's final round, fell back to fifth after a 5-over 75. The Fulton, Miss., native claimed his second-straight Top-10 finish at the Championship, and his eighth Top-10 card this season.
After recording an even-par card on Sunday to tie for 10th, junior Axel Boasson earned his best SEC Championship finish. Sunday's round vaulted him 12 spots up the leaderboard with a 4-over 214 for the three rounds.
Junior Barrett Edens fired a final-round 73 (+3) to finish the tournament tied for 36th at 12-over 222.
Senior Robi Calvesbert and junior Joe Sakulpolphaisan each tied for 54th after registering 17-over 227 totals. Calvesbert turned in a 9-over 79 on Sunday, while Sakulpolphaisan carded a 6-over 76.
Homan's squad will now wait to see where it lands in the postseason during the NCAA Selection Show that will be held May 6 at 8 p.m. State will be seeking to make its first NCAA Regional appearance since the 2008-2009 season.
Fans can follow the Mississippi State men's golf program through Facebook (facebook.com/mstateMG) and Twitter (@mstateMG).
In a match that lasted till 2:22 a.m. CT, the No. 9 Mississippi State men's tennis squad (16-9, 6-6 SEC) fell in a heartbreaking loss to the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (20-10, 6-6 SEC) 4-2 in the second round of the 2013 SEC Championship.
Doubles proved to be a crucial point in the match, as the Wildcats just edged out the Bulldogs with wins on courts one and three. UK struck first, as the duo of Juan Pablo Murra and Anthony Rossi defeated MSU's Romain Bogaerts and Zach White 8-5. However, State evened the score when the tandem of Pedro Dumont and Ethan Wilkinson downed the UK team of Ryuji Hirooka and Beck Pennington 8-5.
The doubles point came down to court one, where the No. 10 MSU duo of Jordan Angus and Malte Stropp went toe-to-toe with the No. 9 UK team of Tom Jomby and Kevin Lai. Down 8-7, the Bulldog team fought off four match points to force a tiebreaker at the top spot, but the Wildcats would prevail, taking the match and the doubles point 9-8(4).
In singles, State would need four victories to take the match and advance to quarterfinal play. UK upped their lead to 2-0 when No. 21 Jomby defeated a tough 55th-ranked Malte Stropp on court two 6-3, 6-4. MSU then answered back when senior James Chaudry defeated UK's Charles Minc 6-1, 6-3 on court three to bring State within one.
At the top spot, UK's No. 17 Rossi downed MSU's No. 12 Bogaerts 6-3, 7-5 to bring the Wildcats within one of victory. State once again answered, as freshman Angus defeated Kentucky's Lai 6-3, 6-2 at the No. 4 position.
The deciding match came at the No. 5 spot, where MSU's White battled UK's Pennington. In a back and forth first set, White earned the first break to go up 6-5, but Pennington broke back to force a tiebreaker. The two continued to battle in the tiebreak, but Pennington fought off White to take the first set 7-6(7). Pennington rode the momentum of the first set win to take the match 7-6(7), 6-0, clinching the match for the Wildcats.
Play at the No. 6 spot was suspended, with MSU's Dumont leading UK's Murra 6-1, 5-3.
State will now await word on the 2013 NCAA Championships, which begin May 10-12 with first and second round action. The Maroon and White expect to earn their 22nd NCAA bid all-time and are in position to be selected as one of the 16 hosts for first and second round play for the second year in a row. The selections will be announced April 30.
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
Collecting eight first-place finishes, the Mississippi State track and field team boasted top performances in its rival's territory, as Ole Miss hosted the Mississippi Open on Saturday.
The Lady Bulldogs captured multiple wins, as senior Allison Storey posted a season-best 139-02.00 in the javelin throw, and Alyssa Hall neared her best high jump clearance this year at 5-07.00.
Also shining for the MSU women included Jody-Ann Muir, who clocked a 54.07 in the 400-meter dash to earn a spot in first, along with Kanishia Carey who finished ahead of the pack in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:13.80. Carmen Brothers also grabbed a top finish in the 5000-meter run, crossing the line in 18:03.41.
Chloe Phillips (4:25.66) and Emma Neigel (4:33.59) paced distance runners in the 1500-meter run, finishing second and third, respectively. Ebony Brinker and Sydney Rodkey garnered a pair of Top 3 field performances, as Brinker leaped a personal-best 40-09.75 in the triple jump and Rodkey pole vaulted 11-06.50.
On the men's side, the Maroon and White posted Top 3 times and scores in all events in which they competed. Highlighted by Tavaris Tate's first-place finish in the 400-meter dash, coach Steve Dudley's squad saw a day full of success. Juan Sanchez also earned a spot in first for the Bulldogs, as he finished the 1500-meter run in 3:49.10. Following Sanchez, freshman Patrick Monaghan clocked a 3:53.91 to finish third.
In the field, Pitor Antosik threw the javelin for 204-07.00, a score which ranks fifth on MSU's all-time list. His performance earned him a second-place finish. Placing second and third in the long jump, A.J. Ward and Antavius McGhee leaped for 23-04.00 and 22-09.00, respectively.
State's momentum continued as Jason Harper finished second in the triple jump (49-01.75) and Tate's speed gained him a spot in third in the 200-meter dash (21.17).
The Bulldogs will remain on the road next weekend, as they travel to Philadelphia for the historic Penn Relays on April 25-27. For more updates on MSU track and field, follow the team on Twitter (@msutracksarah).
Elisabeth Sullivan scored her third goal of the spring as the Mississippi State soccer team tied Southern Miss 1-1 in front of a Super Bulldog Weekend capacity crowd at the MSU Soccer Field.
The draw capped an unbeaten spring slate for Mississippi State in its first action under new head coach Aaron Gordon.
The Bulldogs managed to pull out the tie despite a limited roster that was coming off an exhausting 1-0 win against Memphis four days earlier.
"It was a beautiful day to play soccer, and we had a great crowd here supporting us. Unfortunately, I don't think we brought everything we could have," Gordon said. "Playing midweek against a tough Memphis team and having a small roster this spring could have been a factor, but the spring overall has been good so I can't complain."
The Bulldogs out-shot the Golden Eagles 12-7, including a 6-3 edge in on-goal opportunities. State also held a 5-4 advantage in corner kick opportunities.
Playing three 30-minute periods, State netted the first goal on a Sullivan strike 10 minutes after the opening whistle.
Shannon Palmer had a chance to add a second goal for MSU moments later, but her attempt sailed just wide left of target.
Toward the end of the opening 30 minutes, Sullivan broke through the USM defense only to have her attempt stopped by the Golden Eagle goalkeeper.
Southern Miss nearly had the equalizer midway through the second period as a long attempt from the right side was deflected wide of the back post by State goalie C.J. Winship.
With just under 16 minutes left in the second period, the Bulldogs' Shannen Jainudeen sent a header just high of the bar on a corner kick by Amy Hoover.
The Golden Eagles countered four minutes later and had a nice link-up play at the edge of the 18, but MSU's defense stood strong and cleared the ball out of the danger area.
MSU had the next chance in the frantic period on a Sullivan flick to Halee Heltsley, but her shot was turned back by the Golden Eagle goalie.
After a Sullivan shot sailed wide, USM equalized off a corner kick with 1:47 to go in the second stanza.
The Golden Eagles sent the ball into the middle of the 18, and in the ensuing fight for the loose ball, Temple Hughs found it at her feet and put it into the right side of the net.
Early in the final stanza, Sullivan had a go-ahead volley attempt tipped over the bar. USM had the final scoring chance of the contest, but Brooke Hendrix's chip shot narrowly sailed high of target.