February 9, 2018 10:40:13 AM
STARKVILLE -- With Division I softball programs being allowed 56 regular-season games, coaches always have a backup plan in case replacement opponents are needed late in the season.
Mississippi State coach Vann Stuedeman hopes she doesn't have to go to those plans this early in the season.
However, a challenging forecast is the main talking point as the four-team Bulldog Kickoff Classic is set to begin today at Nusz Park.
MSU is scheduled to open the season by playing Mississippi Valley State at 3 p.m. and Omaha at 5:30 p.m. today.
The Weather Channel lists rain chances for the MSU campus at 70 percent today, 100 percent Saturday, and 80 percent Sunday.
"Everybody is ready to go," Stuedeman said. "After fall practices and then a month of work starting in January, everybody is excited. It's time to play some games and to see where you stand."
Stuedeman has listed three areas of concern entering the season. The Bulldogs will need to replace ace pitcher Alex Silkwood, power hitter Caroline Seitz and team leader Amanda Ivy, who played center field.
Stuedeman hopes for some answers during a season-opening 11-game homestand.
In the circle, MSU will turn to seniors Holly Ward and Cassady Knudsen. Kat Moore is the replacement for Ivy in center field. In the lineup, Stuedeman hopes it is replacement by committee.
"We have asked each player to drive in five more runs than they did a year ago," Stuedeman said. "Caroline had 44 RBIs. Instead, of trying to overwhelm one person, we hope to replace that offense by committee."
In college softball, the tone is usually set in the circle. Ward and Knudsen had big moments for last season's 36-22 squad. Three newcomers also will see some time in the circle.
Last season, MSU advanced to a regional for the fifth time under Stuedeman.
"The biggest thing is confidence," Ward said. "If you don't believe you can pitch on this level, you are defeated before you go in the circle. The coaches have always had a lot of confidence in all of the pitchers. We hope to reward that confidence, while helping some of the younger players learn how to pitch on this level."
Stuedeman admits there are concerns entering the season. She hopes her best recruiting class will provide some answers.
"We have a chance to be a competitive team," Stuedeman said. "We have to find some answers, but we have those answers on our team."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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