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Bulldogs, Rebels renew rivalry in critical weekend softball series

 

Scott Walters

 

STARKVILLE -- When Mississippi State University hosts the University of Mississippi in a Thanksgiving night football game this fall, MSU softball coach Vann Stuedeman plans to be in the stands of Davis Wade Stadium ringing a cowbell. 

 

"I will ring it responsibly, only when we have the ball," Stuedeman said.  

 

This weekend, Stuedeman will not be holding a cowbell. Instead, it will be lineup card in hand as the second-year skipper tries to guide the Bulldogs past the arch-rival Rebels in softball. 

 

The three-game Southeastern Conference series starts with a nationally-televised 7 p.m. opener on ESPNU from the MSU Softball Field. The teams also play at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 

 

MSU third baseman Logan Foulks transfered from the University of North Carolina in December. Rather quickly, she has been brought up to speed on the rivalry. 

 

"Every rivalry is the same, where you are new to it or now," Foulks said. "In a rivalry setting you never let up. We are the state's university. We hope to lay claim to that this weekend." 

 

MSU junior infielder Heidi Shape is appreciative of the school's marketing plan to pack the stadium out totally in maroon. 

 

"Last year, we went up there and the noise was against us," Shape said. "I am really ready to play this series and I am glad it is here. This year, the noise will be for us." 

 

While the contest did garner a national television spot, it won't factor into the national rankings. Still, it is very important for an MSU team trying to make a second straight regional appearance. 

 

"Every weekend in this league is like a super regional," Shape said. "You are trying to win at least two games against some of the best team's in the nation. We are coached to work the process. We will treat Ole Miss, as we would Alabama, Florida, or anybody else in the league." 

 

The Bulldogs are 24-14 overall and rated No. 29 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index. Still, MSU will have to enhance its 3-9 ledger in the conference standings to become a legitimate postseason contender. On the other hand, Ole Miss is scratching and clawing to make the Southeastern Conference tournament and finish with a wining record. The Rebels have only had two winning seasons in school history. The present Rebels are 21-23 overall and 2-13 in league play. 

 

"We are real excited but we are trying to treat this like any other game," MSU junior pitcher Alison Owen, who has also been dropped into the rivalry after transferring from the University of Georgia. "We always focus on competing against the game and not a particular opponent. It will be really hard to channel the emotions this weekend. But we will do our best." 

 

Both teams are coming in off big wins. MSU knocked off third-ranked University of Florida 6-5 in the final game of a weekend series in Gainesville, Fla. Ole Miss snapped a 13-game conference losing streak with an 11-9 win over Auburn University.  

 

For both squads, the victories meant for more than simply salvaging the final game of a weekend series. 

 

"We have momentum right now but we have to keep it going," said Stuedeman, who won all three games in Oxford last season and is 9-0 against in-state opponents. "You can never rest in this league. It is all part of the process. We know what is in front of us, and we have to keep working hard to get there."

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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