March 13, 2009
Chelsea Bramlett is ready for the challenge.
The Mississippi State softball team will face its biggest test of the season this weekend when it opens Southeastern Conference play at No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Bulldogs (14-6) will face the Crimson Tide (20-2) in a doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday and in a single game at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
MSU will try to snap a 13-game losing streak to Alabama that dates back to the 2004 season. The Bulldogs have come close -- they lost 1-0 to Alabama last year in the SEC tournament -- but Bramlett knows the Crimson Tide and their fans will be ready to make life fun for MSU.
"I know for me sometimes it seems to be overwhelming (playing Alabama)," said Bramlett, a junior catcher who leads the team with a .530 batting average, 23 runs, and 35 hits. "I think we just need to work on taking it one pitch at a time and one batter at a time. Hopefully we can get it to where we are all in synch and score a few runs. All it takes is one."
The Bulldogs, who are also receiving votes in the latest NFCA Top 25, are coming off a 3-3 showing at the Mahilini Tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii. MSU lost to Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon State, and Radford and defeated Santa Clara, Hawaii, and Mount St. Mary''s.
"The disappointing this is this was sort of our worst weekend of the season last weekend," MSU coach Jay Miller said. "You want it to be the opposite going into conference, but I feel comfortable where we are. Alabama is a tough challenge and has been first or second (in the national poll) all year, and Tuscaloosa is always a tough place to play."
Defensively, Miller feels good about what the team has accomplished. It has committed only 11 errors and has a .979 fielding percentage.
Offensively, he said MSU is hitting the ball "pretty good" to the tune of a .311 batting average.
"We came off a decent weekend," Bramlett said. "There are areas we could have done better. We didn''t produce a lot of runs, except in the Hawaii game (a 14-11 victory). With Alabama coming up, we are focused on that and know that it is not going to be a high-scoring game."
Miller said the Bulldogs'' pitching has been "sporadic." He said sophomore Misty Flesher, who has appeared in only four games this season, still is not able to throw, which has forced other pitchers to step up.
"At times we have had that and this past weekend we didn''t get that," Miller said. "Hopefully they will all bounce back."
Miller believes the atmosphere this weekend should provide the ideal setting for players to rise to the occasion.
Alabama is coming off 8-5 and 11-2 victories against Mississippi Valley State on Thursday. Alabama beat UAB 6-3 on Tuesday in a game that coach Patrick Murphy called "ugly."
Still, the Crimson Tide''s numbers are impressive. Sophomore pitcher Kelsi Dunne (8-0) has a 0.38 ERA and has struck out 80 in 56 innings. Charlotte Morgan and Amanda Locke each have six victories.
Freshman outfielder Jazlyn Lunceford (.500) and senior outfielder Brittany Rogers (.491) lead a team that has nine players hitting .313 or better.
Alabama, which went 58-8 last season and had its longest run (2-2) in the Women''s College World Series, is hitting .342 as a team. Opponents are hitting .207.
The Crimson Tide slipped from the No. 1 rankings in the polls this week after splitting two games against Washington and taking two from Baylor at the SEC/Pac-10/Big 12 Challenge last weekend in Tuscaloosa.
Florida is the new No. 1 team. Tennessee (No. 7), Georgia (No. 8), and LSU (No. 20) also are ranked.
Murphy said the SEC could be the strongest from top to bottom that it has ever been. He knows MSU will provide another tough test.
"They''re a team you can never put away and you always have to worry about," Murphy said. "They have a great leadoff hitter (Bramlett) who is one of the best in the country. If we can keep her off the bases and if we do a good job with her the rest of it all will fall in line. If she gets on base we really will have a lot of trouble."
Bramlett hopes she can stir things up to help keep the Alabama fans quiet and to fire up her teammates.
"It can be intimidating going to Alabama, but we just need to go in there with the attitude that we have nothing to lose," Bramlett said.
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