April 5, 2019 10:33:03 AM
By BEN PORTNOY
For Mississippi State softball, it's hard to define success.
Despite 14 NCAA tournament appearances in the past 19 years, MSU has finished no better than tied for seventh in the Southeastern Conference since 2008 and has never reached a Super Regional.
And with the SEC currently holding 10 teams in the ESPN.com/USA Softball top-25, the competition remains stiff.
One of those teams, No. 7/5 LSU is in Starkville for the start of a three-game series on Friday night at 6:30.
In the final three years of Jay Miller's time in Starkville, the Bulldogs steadily declined from 41 wins -- the second most in program history -- in 2008 to just 24 in 2011.
But since head coach Vann Stuedeman took over the program in 2012, MSU has earned at least 32 wins in six of her seven years at the helm.
Success is starting to materialize.
With a steady mix of returning talent and new faces, the Bulldogs are on pace to do so again this season -- sitting at 23-12 with 17 games to play.
Offensively, five of the seven players who have appeared in 32 games or more boast batting averages of .290 or better.
Sophomore utility player Mia Davidson leads the team with a .474 average -- the fourth-best mark in the Southeastern Conference. In last weekend's series against No. 4/4 Alabama, Davidson also set a sophomore program record with her 16th home run of the season.
Arizona State transfer junior Fa Leilua and junior Candace Denis have both offered powerful upside at the dish alongside Davidson. Leilua is second on the team in batting average at .358 and has belted 15 home runs while Denis is hitting .348 with 23 hits and 10 RBIs.
In the circle, Stuedeman has relied on a bevy of young arms.
Freshman Grace Fagan, sophomore Emily Williams and junior Arizona State transfer Alyssa Loza have anchored the Bulldog rotation. The trio has a combined ERA of 2.70, while Loza leads the staff with seven wins this year.
Friday, MSU welcomes No. 7/5 LSU to Nusz Park for a three-game series and another shot at the SEC's elite.
It will mark the fourth straight weekend the Bulldogs will take on a ranked opponent.
The Tigers have dominated the all-time series, leading 58-2, and sit 27-7 in games played in Starkville.