February 1, 2018 10:11:06 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State junior softball player Kat Moore quickly found an organization worthy of her time.
"We call ourselves 'TBOIT'," Moore said. "Every day in practice, we are striving to become 'The Best Outfield in the Southeastern Conference.' That's worth getting up every day and working hard for. It's like hair on fire defense. Every ball that is hit we are going to try to get."
After drawing a handful of starts her freshman season, Moore burst onto the scene in 2017. She drew 23 starts in left field and 21 in center field, hit .304 (eight extra-base hits), and scored 24 runs.
Moore has the third-highest returning average from last season's NCAA tournament regional team. Expected to shift full time to center field, Moore and MSU will open the season at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, against Mississippi Valley State in the first of five games in the Bulldog Kickoff Classic at Nusz Park.
"Center field will totally be on lockdown this season," MSU seventh-year coach Vann Stuedeman said. "Kat has a legitimate chance to be the best outfielder in the SEC this season. She has put that much hard work in. As a coach, you always have concerns going into a new season. Ours is a long list.
"That being said, center field is not one of them. Kat learned from Amanda Ivy, a great senior who provided great leadership last season. She will step in and dominate."
Moore had several critical hits while the Bulldogs put together a 10-14 SEC ledger last season. MSU made it back to a regional after a rare miss following the 2016 season. Considered one of the team's best defenders and the team's quickest player, Stuedeman has been amazed at her strides at the plate.
"She hit around .596 in the fall," Stuedeman said. "I think she had at least one hit in every game we played against another opponent during the fall. She was dominant in the scrimmages. We know a couple of things about our offense. We have to score more runs in general and we have to find a replacement for the offensive numbers provided by Caroline Seitz.
"Kat is going to be a major part of us trying to replace the offensive production of Caroline."
Seitz hit .313 with a team-best nine home runs last season.
After hitting .312 in 2015, MSU's batting average slipped to .247 in 2016 but climbed back to .281 last season.
"We have to be a better offensive team," Moore said. "That's not a secret. It starts with confidence early. If you could see some success early in the season, it can carry over. That's why it is important that we have a strong start to the season."
MSU will open the season with 11-straight home games. It has earned enough votes in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 to be considered the nation's No. 29 team.
"This team definitely has a chance to be a top-30 team," Stuedeman said. "We have had some injuries in the fall that will be tough to overcome. However, we have several talented players. We just have to put some things together."
With seniors Cassady Knudsen and Holly Ward taking over as the team's primary pitchers, the play of Moore and her outfield mates will be even more important.
"Neither Cassady nor Holly are legitimate strikeout pitchers," Stuedeman said. "They have the stuff to pitch and pitch well in this league. However, a lot of balls will be put into play. Amanda Ivy anchored the best outfield in the league the last couple of season. Now it's up to Kat to keep that tradition going."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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