STARKVILLE — Mississippi State softball coach Vann Stuedeman says freshman third baseman Carolin Seitz has some freak in her.
Stuedeman quickly adds “that is freak in a good kind of way.”
Seitz calls her freakish nature as one built upon being an intense competitor. In her mind, “it is never fun to lose.”
Chosen as one of 14 members of the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team, Seitz has made an immediate impact at both third base and in the offensive lineup for the surging Bulldogs.
No. 10 seed MSU (38-18) faces No. 7 seed Kentucky (41-14) at 3 p.m. today in the opening round of the SEC tournament being played at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field in Columbia, S.C. This contest opens the nine-game, single-elimination event and will be televised nationally by ESPNU.
“This tournament comes at a very good place for us,” Seitz said. “Everybody is excited because the team did not go last season. Right now, we are playing so well as a unit. We are playing with a lot of energy. I think this is a very good opportunity for us.”
Virtually a lock to make a third straight regional appearance, the tournament is still a statement opportunity for the squad. MSU, along with Florida has played a national-best 23 games against teams ranked in the Ratings Percentage Index Top 25 this season.
“We play in the best league in the nation so every team in our league is good,” Stuedeman said. “Still, it means an awful lot to make the upper cut. We have 13 teams and 10 make this tournament so it quite an accomplishment. I know the three teams that didn’t qualify (Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M) will be scratching and clawing to get back to this event next season.”
MSU narrowly missed the tournament by one game last season. This year, Stuedeman’s squad qualified for the second time in her three seasons as coach. The Bulldogs have played in the event 13 times overall with an 11-20 record.
Seitz and fellow all-freshman selection pitcher Alexis Silkwood have played major roles in revitalizing the team’s fortunes. Seitz hit a team-best .354 for the regular season, including 62 base hits, with 19 doubles, four triples and eight home runs. The latest home run was a seventh inning game-winner in a 4-3 triumph Sunday at LSU. That victory was only MSU’s second all-time in 28 tries in Baton Rouge, La. For the season, Seitz hit safely in 40 of the team’s 56 games.
Seitz has drawn all 56 starts at third base and has joined sophomore Kayla Winkfield to form what Stuedeman calls “the best left side of the infield in the Southeastern Conference.”
“I have learned a lot about myself this year,” said Seitz, who prepped at Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, Ala. “I have learned that I am capable of way more than I thought possible. I think that holds true for a lot of players. The challenge is to work hard enough to find out what you truly are capable of doing.”
MSU has slowly been learning what it is capable of all season long. After winning the first 15 games of the season, the Bulldogs started 3-10 in league play and making the 10-team conference tournament seemed like fantasy more than reality. MSU then won seven of its final 11 league games, including taking series against then-No. 3 Alabama and then-No. 4 Tennessee. Those two squads will be the top two seeds in this week’s event.
“This year we have finally come over the hump,” Seitz said. “Coach Vann has been telling us all along that these things were possible. Now we are beginning to see some proof of that. We had a slow roll going (in league play), before we beat Alabama. That really turned everything around. It gave us the confidence we needed to see just how good we are.”
Silkwood is 13-6 in the circle with a 2.32 earned run average. Her latest win came in the 4-3 victory at LSU and gives her victories over five different conference opponents, the most for a Bulldog freshman since Lindsey Dunlap beat six different conference opponents during the 2009 season. Silkwood and Seitz have made an immediate impact in the league and give the program strong hopes of extending the postseason regional streak well into the rest of the decade.
“We have great senior leadership and great junior leadership,” Seitz said. “When the older players have your back, no matter whether it is on the field or something else, you can play with a lot more confidence. The main thing I learned this year is to have faith and confidence in your teammates and coaches. When you know they have your back, you are going to succeed and do well.”
For the program to break through and win a potential first conference tournament title or first regional title, Stuedeman knew more impact players would be needed on the roster. While the expectations were high for Seitz coming in, Stuedeman admits she may have exceeded those lofty goals envisioned when she was signed.
“She is extremely coachable, she is never too high and never too low,” Stuedeman said. “She knows how to ride that roller coasted of a 56-game season with not too many hills and valleys. She is awesome to coach. She has been consistent all year. It is hard to come into this league and be an every game starter as a freshman. It is incredibly difficult to do but it is a testament to her natural ability.”
Now the next challenge is to have postseason success. Kentucky won a three-game series in Starkville back in March. Much has happened since then.
“We will approach the tournament with same mind-set,” Seitz said. “We are more concerned with the process and ways we can help ourselves. The coaches do a great job of keeping us level-headed and focused on the immediate task at hand. Our job is to perform to the highest level possible, no matter the opponent.”
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.