March 18, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Jamie Pinkerton won 19 games (four in the Southeastern Conference) in 2005 in his first season as University of Arkansas softball coach.
Whitney Cloer hit .145 as a freshman in 2006.
In 2007, the Lady Razorbacks began construction on a multi-million, state-of-the-art softball stadium.
Those stops along the way detail how Arkansas has gone from a perennial SEC cellar dweller to an NCAA tournament team.
Arkansas took another step in that progression Tuesday, defeating MSU 8-3 in eight innings and 5-1 in the first two games of their three-game set at the MSU Softball Field.
The victories helped Arkansas (15-9, 4-0) improve to 4-0 in SEC play for the first time in program history. They also helped the Lady Razorbacks win their first two league series for the first time.
Arkansas shut out South Carolina 4-0 and 7-0 last week in Fayetteville, Ark.
"I feel we have grown a lot and have put some pieces of the puzzle together," Pinkerton said. "Being an NCAA team last year, I think we have experience to play on the road, although we haven''t always showed it."
Pinkerton, who coached at Tulsa from 2001-04, took over in 2005 and went 19-43 (4-25 in the SEC) in his first season. The 2006 recruiting class included Cloer, a 5-foot-8 catcher, who has helped the Lady Razorbacks transform their program.
"We were definitely a growing program (in 2006)," Cloer said. "We were really young and learning everything, and we were not as good as we are now that we have experience and are older and more mature."
Last year, Arkansas, which didn''t make the eight-team SEC tournament, advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. The Lady Razorbacks beat Tulsa and lost to Oklahoma and Oregon, but Cloer feels the program is moving in the right direction.
"It grew my confidence and makes us feel like we belong in the SEC tournament and in the NCAA tournament," Cloer said. "Now we know we can play with the best."
In game one, Kim Jones (5-4) allowed only five hits and two earned runs in going the distance.
Brittany Griffiths (2-for-4, three RBIs), who had a two-run single in the fourth that tied the game at 3, singled in the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth. Jessica Bachkora''s sinking line drive got under a diving Brittany Bell in right field and rolled all of the way to the wall. The liner went for an inside-the-park grand slam and helped Arkansas extend its lead to 8-3.
MSU took a 3-0 lead with two runs in the first and one more in the third. Sammie Jo Bailey and Ka''ili Smith had RBIs for the Lady Bulldogs.
Lindsey Dunlap (6-6) allowed all eight runs and nine hits. She struck out eight and walked three.
In game two, junior right-hander Miranda Dixon (8-2) scattered seven hits and struck out nine in a complete-game effort. She allowed an RBI double to Sammie Jo Bailey in the sixth.
In her last three starts, Dixon has had one walk and 26 strikeouts.
"She threw a good ballgame, and I think we helped her out by swinging at some pitches," MSU coach Jay Miller said. "Give her credit. She changed speeds effectively and we had a tough time with her."
Kelsey Nurnberg (8-3) allowed five runs, all earned, and 10 hits in a complete-game effort to take the loss.
MSU (14-11, 0-5) saw its losing streak move to six games in a row, its longest since it lost 20 in a row in 2006.
The Lady Bulldogs'' start in the SEC also is their worst since 2005 when they opened 0-6.
Miller said the little things added up against his team in game one and that his team still isn''t doing enough at the plate or in the circle.
"They got big hits with two hits and we had opportunities and we didn''t cash in," Miller said. "We sort of let them back in the ballgame and again had some opportunities to score and didn''t get the execution when we needed it. The little things make the difference between winning and losing."
Miller also credited Pinkerton for doing a good job in revitalizing the Arkansas program
"They''re making good progress," Miller said. "They have gotten better each year, which is what I think you want to do. They built a $13 million facility (Bogle Park). That helps a lot and leads to a little bit better recruiting and ballplayers and makes a difference."
MSU will wrap up the Arkansas series at 4 p.m. today. The Lady Bulldogs will play host to No. 21 LSU at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first of two games.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.