LAFAYETTE, La. — When postseason play began, Mississippi State softball coach Vann Stuedeman said her squad would go as far as pitcher Alexis Silkwood could carry them.
Silkwood carried the Bulldogs to the doorstep of the championship round of the NCAA tournament Lafayette Regional. However, the bats couldn’t help guide the team through to a matchup against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Silkwood threw back-to-back complete games and pitched 19 of her team’s 20 innings in the double-elimination event.
In the end, second-seeded Baylor scratched out enough offense to take a 2-0 win against third-seeded MSU in an elimination game Sunday at Lamson Park.
In her team’s finale, Silkwood drew strength from playing alongside seniors Julia Echols, Erika Gaul, Katie Gentle, and Ashley Phillips for the final time.
“It’s definitely a blessing to learn from positional players, especially the seniors every year,” said Silkwood, a sophomore from Illinois. “Not only are you learning about softball, but you are also learning about life.
“You can’t replace players like (Echols). It’s just one chapter in the program, though, and I am excited what is next.”
Silkwood won 14 games as a freshman when she served as understudy to senior Alison Owen. This season, the onus was on Silkwood and she delivered magnificently. Her 40 career victories put her well on pace to shatter the school’s career mark of 56.
Silkwood appeared in 46 of her team’s 56 games this season. She finished with a Southeastern Conference-best 235 2/3 innings and was second in the league with 216 strikeouts. Her 26 victories matched the single-season program record. She also threw 24 complete games, including two in the NCAA tournament.
Baylor defeated MSU 8-4 on Friday in the first game of the tournament. Silkwood pitched five innings of that game. On Saturday, MSU was leading Weber State 1-0 when the rain hit in the fourth inning.
Silkwood started that game and returned to the circle to complete a three-hitter. She retired the final 13 Weber State batters and didn’t allow a Wildcat into scoring position.
Against Baylor, Silkwood allowed seven hits and struck out six. The Bears struck for two-out runs in the first and second.
Stuedeman handles the pitchers at MSU and is proud of Silkwood.
“This young lady to the right of me won 26 games this year,” Stuedeman said. “That shows what a large part of our success this season she became. She had a great freshman year in the best league in America, but that only means you have to work harder to stay there.
“We worked hard to get to this point. When you are good one year, that means you have to come out and be great the next. She really responded to that challenge.”
Silkwood threw 235 2/3 of her team’s 376 1/3 innings. Those numbers will need to change if MSU wants to challenge for a SEC championship next season and bring a softball regional to its new home stadium.
“I am really looking forward to working with some of the young pitchers,” Silkwood said. “I learned so much from (Owen). Now it’s my turn to share that knowledge with some of our younger players. Anyone who is a competitor wants to be out there all of the time. However, I know my limitations. I really feel blessed to be in this situation.”
Silkwood doesn’t have a gaudy ERA (2.85). However, her impact is quite large. Her teammates have complete confidence in her every time in the circle.
“Silk really sets the tone for the entire team,” MSU junior shortstop Kayla Winkfield. “It’s great playing defense behind her. She is going to compete every pitch in a ballgame. Even when she doesn’t have her best stuff, she is going to battle until there is absolutely nothing left.”
MSU stranded 18 baserunners in its two tournament losses to Baylor. The Bears split the pitching workload between ace Heather Stearns and Kendall Potts. Stearns threw five innings Friday in the win against MSU.
Potts drew the start Sunday and had things under control until MSU rallied in the sixth. After a Mackenzie Toler single and Gentle double, the Bulldogs had runners at second and third. Stearns entered to get a lineout before striking out the side in the seventh.
“There is no secret we need some balance,” Stuedeman said. “However, we had some young pitchers make strides this year and we have a talented recruiting class coming in.”
That recruiting class will help MSU advance to a first super regional. It also will be charged with reducing Silkwood’s load in the circle. Regardless of what happens, Silkwood will be ready.
“There is no other coach or team I had rather play for,” Silkwood said. “We are going to get some big things done.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.