February 9, 2013 10:58:51 PM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University softball program can point to pitching as a strength this season.
MSU rode a wave of pitching momentum to a doubleheader sweep of Tennessee State University and Georgia State University on Saturday in the second day of the Bulldog Kickoff Classic.
MSU (3-1) allowed just four hits in 8-0 and 9-1 run-rule victories.
"We've all been grinding out hard work in the bullpen, and coach (Vann) Stuedeman has been breaking down our film to our mechanics," MSU pitcher Alison Owen said. "We're so lucky to have her and get to work with her."
Against TSU, MSU allowed just one hit with 12 strikeouts. Senior left-hander Kylie Vry struck out in four innings. Freshman Jacey Punches (1-0) picked up the victory with three strikeouts in the final two frames.
The 12 strikeouts marked the 15th time in 21 seasons MSU struck out 12 or more in a game. Four of those occasions have come in the first 60 games under second-year coach Stuedeman's pitching guidance. The shutout was the 227th by a Stuedeman-coached pitching staff since 2000. MSU has 38 strikeouts in innings this season.
Owen, a junior transfer from the University of Georgia, didn't allow a Georgia State runner to get base first base in four innings, allowing just one hit and striking out five in her second start. Owen used her riseball to dominate GSU and to extend her run without a walk.
"She is so much fun to coach because she's easy going, and the one thing that's very special about her is the command she has of all her pitches," Stuedeman said. "She's a learner and competitive at the same time."
Owen (1-1), who pitched in the Women's College World Series for Georgia in 2010, had to wait a calendar year to make her MSU debut. She hasn't wasted any time, striking out 14 in 12 innings.
"I like to take that nervousness and make it excitement, but I was so excited to be out there in a game again," Owen said. "I had to be brought back down energy wise by my teammates because yeah, maybe I got a little too excited."
Senior Stephanie Becker relieved Owen and pitched her way in and out of trouble by striking out two with runners on second and third base.
"They're going to be a great 1-2 punch this season, and I can see some really good situational moves with our staff," Stuedeman said.
MSU wasted a quality start by Owen on Friday night in a 3-2 loss to the University South Alabama. The Bulldogs solved their lack of pop early and often Saturday. Junior center fielder Jessica Offutt went 3-for-5 in the games with three runs scored, two RBIs, two runs, and a stolen base. Leadoff hitter Ashley Phillips went 3-for-6 with three RBIs, two walks, and a run scored.
"I'm really excited about the offense because we had two pinch-hit opportunities that were ready to make the most of it," Stuedeman said.
Senior Jessica Cooley and junior Logan Foulks both hit home runs. Cooley registered her third career grand slam to put the Bulldogs up 7-1 in the fifth. The Birmingham, Ala., native led the team with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs last season.
"It's going to be huge for us this season to give them that cushion offensively because we're so excited about A.O., Becker, and Kylie Vry leading the way for us," Cooley said.
Foulks, a transfer from the University of North Carolina, has three RBIs in four games and has played error-free ball at third base.
On Friday, MSU stole eight bases for the first time in more than 11 years in a 5-2 victory against Troy University.
MSU stole eight bases for the first time since swiping eight vs. Belmont University on Feb. 13, 2002, finishing two shy of the school record set Feb. 22, 1997 vs. Alcorn State University. Sophomore Ashley Phillips stole three bases to become the seventh player all-time to accomplish the feat.
Logan Foulks and Julia Echols each had their first hits as Bulldogs. Each player also had an RBI. Heidi Shape was 1-for-4 with a run scored, Phillips was 1-for-3 with a run, freshman Kayla Winkfield was 1-for-3, and junior Jessica Offutt was 1-for-2 with a run.
Becker threw 5 1/3 innings of two-hit softball to earn the victory. She struck out seven and allowed one earned run allowed. Owen pitched 1 1/3 innings of hitless ball for her first save.
MSU will finish the Kickoff Classic at 3:30 p.m. today with a rematch against South Alabama.