March 11, 2013 10:30:40 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- After needing eight years to beat LSU, the Mississippi State University softball team found earning back-to-back victories was too much of a task.
No. 12 LSU built a big lead and cruised to a 9-2 victory Sunday afternoon in the rubber game of a three-game Southeastern Conference series at the MSU Softball Field.
The finale came after two days of suspense. In the longest game played at the MSU Softball Field, LSU won 1-0 in 14 innings Friday night. On Saturday, MSU snapped a 21-game losing streak in the series with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory.
Any momentum from MSU's first win against LSU since March 30, 2005, faded fast as LSU scored three times in the first inning Sunday.
"I loved our fight, especially in the late innings," MSU coach Vann Stuedeman said. "We had more quality at-bats as the game went along. Our at-bats got better, instead of worse. We were threatening. We just couldn't put together more runs."
Until Sunday, runs were at a premium. The teams played 21 innings at two runs apiece before Sunday's finale. LSU's Rachele Fico and MSU's Alison Owen each went the distance Friday night. Owen pitched the seventh inning to earn the save Saturday.
The series finale was different. LSU (19-5, 2-1 SEC) reached Owen for seven hits and eight runs (all earned) in five innings.
"This is really the beginning for this team" Owen said. "I think we are playing with a lot of confidence. The win streak really helped put some things in place. Everybody is working on the mind-set of winning the moment. Each time we compete with a really great team, we learn a little more about ourselves."
Owen struck out 10 and Fico struck out 22 on Friday. On Sunday, Fico threw 121 pitches and allowed six hits.
Down 8-0, the Bulldogs scored twice in the fifth to extend the game. Loryn Nichols and Jessica Offutt had the hits in the inning. The Bulldogs (16-6, 1-2) scored on a throwing error and a Heidi Shape sacrifice fly.
"We kept telling the team we were going to come back and win this game," Stuedeman said. "We played with a confidence and belief that was established earlier in the season. Even though we were down, we kept battling back. You tip your hat to LSU. That is a world series team from a year ago.
"Every weekend is a super regional in our league. LSU won a super regional and made the world series a year ago. That is what we are trying to accomplish. I think we grew up a whole bunch this weekend."
In a weekend where no SEC team swept a three-game series, MSU made notice it wants to compete for the upper division this season. It had won nine straight games before losing Friday.
"We are a different team now than from the first part of the season," said Offutt. "I think we grew up a lot in Florida (winning five games in the D9 Citrus Classic). We played in a tournament with some really great teams, and by winning every game our confidence just grew by leaps and bounds.
"We have to work out some of the kinks and become a better offensive team because we know the pitching is going to be."
A.J. Andrews homered to win Friday's game. On Saturday, MSU battled back from a 1-0 deficit with two runs in the sixth. A massive home run by Logan Foulks preceded Shelby Fisher's game-winning hit.
"The kids have worked so hard, and you want them to see that they can compete and that they belong," Stuedeman said. "Winning one game and being in position to win two games and fighting hard all three games is an accomplishment. I really like the fight of this team."
MSU won 12 conference games last season. It defeated No. 7 University of Georgia for its only victory against a ranked conference opponent.
"We focus living in the present moment and working on the little things," Fisher said. "At the end of the day, if we keep working on the little things, we know we can look up at the scoreboard and be happy with the results. We just have to keep working hard and winning games."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter