February 7, 2013 11:12:38 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- While Mississippi State University did not win its softball opener Thursday night, the Bulldogs did get a glimpse at the pitching potential of transfer Alison Owen.
That aspect of the game looked very good.
Owen set a school record for season openers with nine strikeouts but University of South Alabama's Blair Johnson hit the game-winning home run as the Jaguars grabbed a 3-2 victory before a capacity crowd at the MSU Softball Field.
"It is one game and there is a whole lot of softball left to be played," MSU head coach Van Stuedeman said. "But you saw a lot of things from Alison that you had to like. We will get better. The pitching we saw tonight will win both teams a lot of games."
The opening game of the Bulldog Kickoff Classic matched two NCAA participants from a season ago. The teams combined for seven hits and played errorless ball in a well-played contest reminiscent of late-season softball instead of early February.
"South Alabama has an excellent team," Stuedeman said. "They have two pitchers who will cause a lot of teams problems. We had opportunities. We didn't take advantage of them. As the season goes along, we will grow as a team."
Owen pitched in the Women's College Series for the University of Georgia in 2010. After playing another season for those Bulldogs, Owen transferred to Starkville where she sat out last season to gain eligibility.
The junior right-hander is expected to add credibility and depth to an already-strong pitching staff. Her progress during fall camp was good enough to earn the opening-day start. In the circle, Owen allowed three hits and struck out nine with no walks, while throwing 104 pitches.
"She pitched with a lot of confidence in the circle," Stuedeman said. "(South Alabama) benefited from one well-placed hit which led to two runs and a home run ball. We couldn't get runners across the dish when we got them in scoring position. It was a tough night."
MSU built a 2-0 lead in the first inning when catcher Sam Lenahan smashed a two-run home run over the left center field portion of the new outfield wall at the MSU Softball Field. The Bulldog junior homered only twice in 168 at-bats last season.
The early offense looked like it would be more than enough for Owen who breezed through the first three innings. In those three at-bats, the Jaguars managed only one base runner and struck out six times.
In the fourth inning, a double by Brittany Fowler started the big at-bat. Kaitlyn Griffith followed with a looping double which fell neatly between two colliding MSU defenders. Griffith later scored in the game-tying run on a sacrifice fly.
Johnson then won the game in the sixth inning with her no-doubt one-out shot over the right field wall. For the USA sophomore, it was her first career home run.
The USA pitching duo of Farish Beard and Hannah Campbell also pieced together a masterpiece.
The duo scattered four hits as the Bulldogs stranded six base runners. Beard threw four innings to earn the win, while Campbell faced one batter past the minimum in three innings of shutout ball for the save.
"The best thing about softball is you play so many games," Stuedeman said. "We had a great crowd tonight. Now, we get rested up and ready to come back out and do it again. Hopefully, we can do a better job of getting the key hit, because we play another quality opponent."
The tournament features five games today, with MSU facing Troy at 6:30 p.m. today.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter