March 18, 2017 10:36:19 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE - When the Mississippi State softball team knocked off Troy 2-1 two weeks ago at Nusz Park, it was not a season-changing event.
Perhaps it was.
In the sixth inning, Troy scored and had the potential go-ahead run on base, MSU coach Vann Stuedeman went to the mound and reminded Holly Ward it was her game.
Ward worked around trouble in the sixth and seventh innings to throw a complete game.
At the time, Stuedeman said it was a critical test for the mental composure of her talented junior right-hander. She called it a dress rehearsal for when the team had bigger games later in the season.
On Saturday night, the big game came and Ward passed the test again.
With Ward throwing a two-hit shutout, MSU defeated No. 11 Alabama 1-0 before a crowd of 1,056 at Nusz Park, evening the weekend Southeastern Conference series at a game apiece.
"We had a plan and just worked the process," Ward said. "I trusted myself and trusted the defense. We are so hungry as a team. We know we can play with anybody. We believe in ourselves, and that is what matters."
Alabama (27-3, 4-1 SEC) beat MSU (22-6, 2-3) 11-3 in five innings in the series opener Friday night. To bounce back less than 24 hours later was huge, as the Bulldogs won their third game against a ranked opponent this season.
"Really excited for the kids. They played great," Stuedeman said. "I am excited for the fans. The place was packed. It was good to get the win for this team and for the fans. This team is tough and resilient. They know they are well prepared. It is the team that plays the best that wins the game most of the time. Our players know on any given day one can happen."
The victory was clinched when outfielder Kat Moore made a diving catch to end the game.
"When the ball left the bat, it looked like it was going to be fair," Ward said. "Then it started tailing at the last moment. If it stayed in play, I knew Kat would get it because our outfield is outstanding."
Ward had a no-hitter through five innings and only faced one batter past the minimum in that time (thanks to a leadoff walk in the fifth).
In the sixth, Alabama got a pair of hits but again no pitching chance was made and Ward (5-2) gained her second wind. Two flyouts ended that frame before Ward set the side down in order in the seventh for her fifth complete game.
The Bulldogs scored in the second when Calyn Adams had a leadoff single and scored on a single by Amanda Ivy.
MSU won against a ranked opponent for the second time in as many series without Alexis Silkwood starting. The team's ace finished up Regan Green's 5-2 win over then-No. 6 Texas A&M last Friday at College Station, Texas. She hasn't pitched in this series, but she hit Saturday night.
In the series opener, the Bulldogs had five hits and three runs (two earned) off ace Alexis Osorio but couldn't match the Crimson Tide's offense.
Green allowed a three-run home run to Peyton Grantham in the first. Alabama later brought the run rule into effect with five runs in the fifth.
The rubber game of the three-game series is at 4:30 p.m. today.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter