STARKVILLE – When the season started, the Mississippi State softball team knew the importance of the middle two weeks of April.
The Bulldogs have an eight-game stretch of games against teams in the Ratings Percentage Index Top 28, with seven of those being against the Top 13. With an RPI of 22, MSU is looking for a late push to secure a high seed in an NCAA regional with the outside hope of hosting a regional.
MSU kicked off the eight-game stretch on a positive note with a 9-4 win over No. 1 LSU (RPI No. 2) in a non-conference game played before a packed house Wednesday night at the MSU Softball Field.
Now, the Bulldogs are back on the road. MSU (30-10 overall, 8-7 SEC) faces No. 21 Missouri (RPI No. 8, 25-8, 6-6) in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend in Columbia, Missouri.
The series opener is at 6:30 p.m. today on SEC Network +.
“We felt like at the beginning of the season this would be a stretch of games that really helped define our season,” MSU fourth-year head coach Vann Stuedeman said. “As a coach, you can’t get worried about hosting. You let the administration handle all of that. Your focus is winning the games at hand. If you don’t win the games at hand, it doesn’t matter.”
MSU enters the Missouri series on a six-game win streak. The victory over LSU moved the MSU record to 6-6 against ranked opponents. In the conference standings, MSU is tied for seventh place with No. 12 Georgia (RPI No. 25).
After sweeping the South Carolina series, Missouri has lost three straight conference series to Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia.
Mid-Major Softball Blog projected MSU as a 2-seed in the Lafayette Regional Wednesday afternoon. The site had seven SEC teams hosting. The challenge for the Bulldogs will be double, since they are trying to move into one of those spots, while at the same time, if not hosting, staying fairly close to home for regional play.
Stuedeman’s squad has made an NCAA regional in each of her first three seasons as head coach. A year ago, the Bulldogs also played in the Lafayette Regional. MSU has never hosted a region and also never advanced to a super regional.
The hopes of changing history stem from a new-look offense. MSU is hitting .326 as a team with all but two regulars hitting .300 or better. MSU collected 11 hits against an LSU pitching staff, which entered the game with the nation’s second best ERA at 1.37.
The Bulldogs have now had 10 or more hits in 18 games this season.
“The confidence level is really high on this team right now,” MSU junior shortstop Kayla Winkfield. “We are getting contributions from everybody in the lineup. When you have strong pitching and strong defense, then you add the hitting, this team can go a long way.”
Sophomore pitcher Alexis Silkwood won her conference-best 22nd game against LSU. The school record for wins in a season is 26. She should have the opportunity to pitch today and in Sunday’s nationally-televised series finale at Missouri.
Silkwood was not at her best Wednesday night but she was good enough to help hand the nation’s No. 1 team its largest margin of defeat this season. Still, there is no time to rest.
“We can’t let up now,” Silkwood said. “When the year started, we knew how hard April was going to be. That is life in the SEC. We have to keep putting up wins. The best way to win is to play with confidence. Right now, we have a lot of that.”
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.