OXFORD — Fa Leilua tossed the bat aside with a practiced motion.
The Mississippi State graduate first baseman knew she had made solid contact when she drove a 3-2 pitch from Ole Miss junior starter Savannah Diederich deep to the opposite field with two runners on base and nobody out in the fourth inning of Monday’s game in Oxford. Leilua discarded her bat and headed down the first-base line.
Then the ball settled into the outstretched glove of Rebels sophomore Nyomi Jones just shy of the blue right-field fence. Leilua headed back to the first-base dugout, senior catcher Mia Davidson scrambled back to the bag at first base and junior left fielder Chloe Malau’ulu tagged up and returned to third.
Leilua had come up short.
So had Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs stranded both runners in the fourth, left the bases loaded in the top of the fifth and watched the Rebels score six more runs in those two innings for an 8-0 run-rule victory in Monday’s Southeastern Conference finale. Ole Miss (18-7, 3-0 SEC) finished off a sweep of the Bulldogs (15-8, 0-3) in Mississippi State’s first SEC series since May 3-4, 2019.
“I don’t think we played to our potential,” Mississippi State coach Samantha Ricketts said. “We’ve got to hit a little better, pitch better, defense — just kind of everything that you need to be working.”
The Bulldogs managed just one run in the entirety of the series, and it came in Sunday’s 4-1 loss. Against Diederich on Monday, the Bulldogs got just two hits — sophomore second baseman Paige Cook’s leadoff single and senior third baseman Montana Davidson’s double off the top of the center-field fence. Both came back to back in the top of the fifth inning as the Bulldogs, trailing 3-0, threatened to tie the game or take the lead.
But Ole Miss brought in the pitcher who had been a thorn in Mississippi State’s side twice already on the weekend and baffled the Bulldogs once again Monday. Ace senior Anna Borgen entered in relief of Diederich and got straight to work, inducing a ground ball to shortstop that the Rebels threw home to cut down Cook at the plate. Junior Jackie McKenna struck out in a pinch-hitting appearance, and after Malau’ulu was hit by an 0-2 pitch, Mia Davidson grounded into a forceout to end the inning without a single run coming across.
It was Borgen’s second save of the series after she closed out the Bulldogs on Sunday. The native Texan tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout Saturday in the opening game of the series.
“I thought she really did a great job just mixing different quadrants and mixing speeds as well — just attacking,” Ricketts said. “It felt like we were behind 0-2 just about every time.”
And while Mississippi State missed its chance, the Rebels took advantage of theirs. They didn’t give the Bulldogs another chance to score any runs, tagging senior starter Emily Williams and sophomore reliever Aspen Wesley for five in the inning. Senior first baseman Sydney Gutierrez brought home a run on an infield single off Wesley, and senior catcher Autumn Gillespie followed by lashing a triple over the head of Leilua at first and into the right-field corner. The three-bagger brought home two runs to make it a 6-0 ballgame, and junior shortstop Mikayla Allee soon brought home Gillespie with a single.
Williams returned to the circle after Allee’s base hit but fared little better than Wesley. She followed a pop-up for the second out with a walk, and after a wild pitch moved both runners up, freshman second baseman Blaise Biringer reached on an infield hit to end the game on the run rule with Ole Miss up eight.
“Ole Miss played a great game,” Ricketts said. “I thought they were really good in the box and on the mound, so a lot of credit to them.”
Gillespie brought home the Rebels’ first run with a solo homer off a light pole in left center field in the second inning, and Tate Whitley followed with an RBI double to center. Whitley had a sac fly in the fourth as Ole Miss extended its lead.
The Bulldogs didn’t have a single baserunner Monday until Malau’ulu was hit by a pitch, the first of two such instances, leading off the fourth inning. The plunking extended her on-base streak to 28 consecutive games, though it was little consolation when Leilua, senior designated player Carter Spexarth and junior right fielder Anna Kate Segars all flied out after Davidson drew a walk.
“That’s the name of the game: You’ve got to capitalize on opportunities when you have them, especially with the heart of our order,” Ricketts said. I think it’s kind of the story of the weekend: not being able to capitalize and execute.
“Bottom line is, we have to execute better,” she added. It doesn’t have to be a home run; we can take a sac fly or just something a little bit more small-ball and play situationally to try to execute a little bit more when we’ve got opportunities on the bases for us.”
The Bulldogs will be back in action for a midweek game at Samford (9-12) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Birmingham, Alabama. After that, Mississippi State will host No. 6 Florida (17-2, 2-1 SEC) at Nusz Park for a three-game conference series from Friday to Sunday.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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