April 26, 2014 9:45:30 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State senior first baseman Logan Foulks believes her team felt like it was out-fought Friday night in a Southeastern Conference loss to Arkansas.
The Bulldogs vowed to not let that happen again Saturday.
Scoring a school-record for runs in a conference game, MSU evened the weekend three-game series with a 18-7 five-inning rout of Arkansas before a sun-drenched crowd of 892 at the MSU Softball Field.
"We were out-fought in the first game and everybody knew it," Foulks said. "Of course, our coaches told us that, too, but we already had it figured out. We pride ourselves on a grit, determination and playing hard for every at-bat in a game. We certainly didn't do that."
Playing an unranked conference opponent for the first time this season, MSU sputtered out of the gates dropping a 6-4 decision in the Friday night series opener. MSU had taken league series from Top Five foes Alabama and Tennessee on consecutive weekends but were in danger of not making it three series in a row after losing that opener to one of the bottom teams in the league. Now, MSU can indeed win a third straight conference series by taking today's noon start rubber match. The MSU senior class will be honored before their final home game of the season.
With four conference games remaining, MSU (36-16, 8-12 SEC) is now in sole possession of 10th place with 10 teams making the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs could not sew up a berth Sunday but could very close to doing so.
"We were really considered about Arkansas coming into the series because they have been scoring a lot of runs," MSU head coach Vann Stuedeman said. "Look at today, they scored seven runs and really swung the bats well. I am really proud of how we responded after Friday night because it was not our best and the girls knew that. We always preaching looking ahead and not behind. Great crowd, great atmosphere and played really well."
MSU quickly built a 4-0 lead in the first inning, thanks in large part to a three-run double by Foulks. Arkansas (27-23, 5-15) then gave the home folks great concern as it plated six runs in the top half of the second inning.
Jacey Punches drew her third career start in the circle as the Bulldogs have tried to give reining SEC Pitcher of the Week Alexis Silkwood some rest this weekend. Punches retired the side in order in the first inning but got no one out in the second inning. Shana Sherrod followed but managed only one out. Alison Owen, who struggled in the series opener Friday, rebounded strong by entering in relief with one out in the second inning and finishing the contest. Owen (3-2) struck out five and allowed two hits in 3.2 innings of work.
"AO (Owen) was great," MSU senior catcher Sam Lenahan said. "She really came in and kept things calm when we had been giving up a bunch of runs. We knew we could hit this team. We just had to stay true to the process."
The Bulldogs did just that. MSU scored a season-best 10 runs in the second inning. The Bulldogs batted 15 in the frame and pounded out 10 base hits off a trio of Razorbacks pitchers.
Caroline Seitz started things with an RBI-single. Lenahan then crushed the team's second grand slam of the season - a massive shot to left center for a 9-6 lead. Foulks and Kayla Winkfield followed with RBI-singles. Jessica Offutt had an RBI-single, while Heidi Shape drew a bases-loaded walk. Seitz drove in her second run of the inning with a groundball out.
"Good to see a 10-spot there on the scoreboard," Stuedeman said. "That is what happens when a little confidence becomes a lot of confidence. We pounded out 16 hits and had a great approach at the plate. I thought we were more patient than we were in the opener."
From there, Owen had more than enough offense. Still, the Bulldogs wound up tallying the most runs scored by any SEC team in a conference game this season, as well as setting its own school record, bettering the 14 runs scored in a win over Ole Miss in 2003.
"It is senior weekend, so there is a lot of emotion in the ballpark," Foulks said. "We don't have a lot of players who are really emotional. For instance, Sam is a straight-line player. She is also straight-line. In class, in practice, in a game, she is always the same no matter what. We have a lot of players like that. This weekend though there is more emotion than usual, so you have to make that a good thing. You have to take that passion and do something good with it. We did a lot better job of that today."
Freshman Mackenzie Toler brought the run rule into effect by hitting a grand slam in the bottom half of the fifth inning. For Lenahan, it was her team-best 10th home run, while for Toler, it was her second. Julia Echols had three hits for MSU, while Offutt, Seitz, Lenahan and Loryn Nichols each had multiple hits.
"We just have to come back out here and play with this type of enthusiasm again (in the series finale)," Stuedeman said. "You can't let momentum like this go to waste."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter