October 21, 2012 1:10:01 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University softball team is planning its final stop on its "Tour de Miss."
The Bulldogs will complete their five-city, eight-game fall tour at 1 p.m. today with a doubleheader against Wallace State University at Hanceville at the MSU Softball Field. Admission is free.
"We are excited to be home," MSU coach Vann Stuedeman said. "This is our only playing date at home this fall, so we are hoping a lot of fans will add MSU softball into their Homecoming activities."
When Stuedeman took over the MSU program last summer, she decided to play several fall games at cities throughout the state. Dubbed the "Tour de Miss," the Bulldogs followed the same blueprint this season by visiting three new in-state destinations and playing a doubleheader in Huntsville, Ala.
"We feel like part of our job as coaches is to help build the sport around the state," Stuedeman said. "The reception we have gotten everywhere has been outstanding. When we played our fall doubleheader at Gulfport, we had some booster club members from Meridian to come watch us play.
"You will always get your home fans to come see you play. When you get fans to start traveling that is Vann-tastic in bold letters with a big font."
The Bulldogs are 4-1 in the fall. The schedule also included an exhibition matchup against the National Pro Fastpitch All-Star team. The team has played at Southaven High School, South Panola High, and Harrison Central High.
"We have met some new friends along the way and have spread softball cheer around the state," Stuedeman said. "Now that this coaching staff has been in place for a year, the fans understand what we are all about. We have offered clinics at each of these locations. We are excited about making new fans who will come back to see us play in the spring."
A youth movement is under way with the program. Several new faces will be in uniform as MSU tries to build on last season's 33-24 finish. The Bulldogs returned to postseason play last season for the first time since 2009. They lost both of their games in the double-elimination Eugene Regional.
"This fall has been totally different," Stuedeman said. "Last season, we had three new coaches in place and there was so much to build. Last season, we had three coaches trying to set the standard. Now it's like we have gone from three coaches to 21 coaches because all of the returning players understand our program."
The team has made it an action-packed Homecoming weekend. It offered a pitching expo and autograph session Saturday in The Junction before the football team's game against Middle Tennessee State University.
After today's doubleheader, the public is invited to attend a free picnic. There will be a $5 charge for students in grades 9-12 who are prospective student-athletes.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter