February 3, 2018 10:31:00 PM
Mississippi State softball coach Vann Stuedeman has given her current team a unique way to make up for the graduation of All-Southeastern Conference performer Caroline Seitz.
Seitz led the Bulldogs with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 2017. Her offensive absence will be the most notable presences when MSU opens the season against Mississippi Valley State and Omaha at 3 and 5:30 p.m. Friday in the first two games of day one of the three-day Bulldog Kickoff Classic at Nusz Park.
"Forty-four RBIs is a large number for us," Stuedeman said. "We have asked each position starter to drive in five more runs this season. That has been the practice point. Find a way to get five more runs home. You can't replace a player like Caroline. We will do the best we can."
MSU will look for better offensive production as it tries to return to a NCAA tournament regional for a
second-straight year and the sixth time under Stuedeman.
A year ago, MSU (36-22) scored 232 runs, which is a little more than four per game. The Bulldogs left 435 runners on base.
"We battled last season, but we didn't take advantage of our opportunities," MSU junior infielder Sarai Niu said. "It starts with more confidence at the plate. We made strides last season. We hope to make even more strides this season."
The Bulldogs return six position starters from last season's team.
"We have three really big challenges," Stuedeman said. "We will need to replace Alexis Silkwood's 158 innings on the mound. We need to replace the outstanding outfield play of Amanda Ivy. We need to replace the offensive production of Caroline Seitz.
"With the replacement of Silkwood, we are looking at two veteran pitchers in Cassady Knudsen and Holly Ward, both returning. We feel like we are in good hands in the outfield with Kat Moore taking over full-time in center field. The biggest of the three concerns is clearly on offense. We need to be a better offensive team than we have been in each of the last two seasons."
A year ago, the Bulldogs hit .281. Stuedeman feels the squad needs to be at .300 or better to have a chance to compete with the top half of the conference.
There is reason to believe that might happen. The Bulldogs received votes in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 Tuesday. If the poll was stretched past 25, the Bulldogs would be 29th.
Senior shortstop Reggie Harrison, junior outfielder Bevia Robinson, and Moore return after hitting better than .300 last season.
"We have some really good speed," Moore said. "We should be able to have some more slap hits this season. The thing is not to get too high or too low because it's a long season. Coach Vann always talks about staying the moment. That will be important. We have to learn how to play without some of the players we counted on for a long time. That doesn't mean this team doesn't have potential."
Stuedeman has talked about the importance of one player not feeling like she has to be the next superstar.
"Instead, just do a little more than you did a season ago," Stuedeman said. "If each pitcher can find a way to do more and if each hitter can find a way to do more, we will be fine. The results will then take care of themselves."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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