April 13, 2013 11:08:38 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University softball coach Vann Stuedeman doesn't believe in defined pitching roles.
That is one reason Alison Owen is her type of pitcher.
Owen pitched the final two innings Saturday afternoon and helped MSU beat the University of Mississippi 6-5 in the middle game of a three-game Southeastern Conference series at the MSU Softball Field.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Owen threw a complete-game in a 5-1 victory in the series opener before a school-record crowd of 1,553.
"We like a diverse pitching staff," Stuedeman said. "I like the depth of this pitching staff. I am a big believer of living in the moment. We want the best choice in a particular situation."
This weekend, all of MSU's choices have been correct. MSU has won three straight league games and clinched a weekend series for the first time this season. The Bulldogs have won seven straight from the Rebels, and will attempt a second straight series sweep at 1 p.m. today.
"This weekend has been so much fun because it is great to beat a rival," MSU senior outfielder Jessica Cooley said. "I think we are playing with a lot of confidence. The important thing was having a good start. It was good to get some runs early and get some things going."
The Bulldogs (26-14, 5-9 SEC) built a 6-1 lead thanks to two runs in the first inning and four more in the second.
In the first, Logan Foulks ripped an RBI double and Cooley added an RBI single. Shelby Fisher and Jessica Offutt added to the lead with RBI singles. Ole Miss also walked in a run and forced in another score on a hit batter.
"After you win the first game of a series, it is important to not have a letdown," Stuedeman said. "One of our main themes is wining the late innings. However, I thought it was extremely important to come out and have fast start today. When you have the other team down, you want to start strong.
"I thought we did a great job of doing that today."
This season, MSU has garnered victories against nationally ranked LSU and the University of Florida. It also has a victory against Auburn in league play. However, it took until the fifth weekend of SEC play for MSU to clinch its first series victory.
"This was really big for our team from a confidence standpoint," Cooley said. "We had been close but hadn't been able to close out a series. The win (last Sunday's 6-5 upset at Florida) was really huge. It showed we could compete with anybody. We took a lot of momentum from that win.
"Now coming back home and playing in front of all our fans, we wanted to keep it going."
MSU starting pitcher Stephanie Becker (7-6) only worked three innings but was credited with the win. With a strikeout in the game's opening at-bat, Becker became the school's all-time strikeout leader with 407.
"The record means a lot to me," Becker said. "I have had a great career here with lots of memories. I will take a lot of things away from having played here. To be able to do it at home in a rivalry situation made it even more special."
Ole Miss (21-25, 2-15) chased Becker in the fourth. The Rebels closed within 6-3 before Jacey Punches was brought in to get the Bulldogs out of that fix.
"Our pitching and defense has been great all year," Cooley said. "Now, we are beginning to hit like we are capable of hitting. The fact that we have games where we do all three things well is why we are excited about the rest of the season."
Punches gave way to Owen, who entered after a walk and single started the Ole Miss sixth. While maneuvering her squad through that tight spot, Owen allowed a two-run home run by Madi Osias -- her second in the game -- in the seventh.
"Alison is a competitor," Stuedeman said. "She came in and challenged hitters. She didn't get down after the home run and found a way to close out a huge win."
Four of Ole Miss' 12 hits were home runs. Allison Brown and Bri Payne joined Osias with three hits apiece. Payne and Londen Ladner each hit home runs.
"We gave up some hits, but I thought the team did a great job of getting that key out, getting that key stop," Stuedeman said.
Cooley had two of MSU's eight hits.
While the weekend has already been a success, MSU players and coaches understand work remains to be done to nail down a second straight NCAA tournament regional appearance.
"We want to sweep the series," Becker said. "That is very important to this team. We have a lot to play for the rest of the season. It's fun coming out here every day, trying to get better, and trying to get the job done."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter