Granted a break from the constant grind of its Southeastern Conference schedule, the Mississippi State softball team finally got back into the win column.
On Wednesday at Southern Miss, the Bulldogs (16-14, 0-9 SEC) emerged victorious for the first time in three weeks, beating the Golden Eagles (18-12, 0-0 Conference USA) by a score of 2-1 in nine innings to avoid falling to .500 on the season.
“It felt like a little bit of a sigh of relief to get back on track for everyone,” Mississippi State coach Samantha Ricketts said.
Senior designated player Carter Spexarth landed the go-ahead double just inside the left-field line in the top of the ninth, scoring senior catcher Mia Davidson to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. Mississippi State stranded graduate first baseman Fa Leilua and Spexarth for their 11th and 12 runners left on base of the night, but the late score was enough.
“I thought Carter had a great day,” Ricketts said. “She was 3 for 5 at the plate. That’s definitely what we want hitting in the four-hole for us. I think we left definitely a few too many runners on base, but Carter picked up the big one when we needed it there.”
Senior Annie Willis closed out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning to preserve Mississippi State’s first victory since March 10 against Memphis. Willis relieved starter Emily Williams after Williams allowed the tying home run with two out in the bottom of the fifth and tossed four innings, allowing only one hit and striking out seven.
“For Annie to come in in a tight situation and hold them when they got runners on and then once we got the lead there in the ninth, it was fun to see and for her to step up to the challenge,” Ricketts said. “I think that’s what we’re working on doing every game and every inning right now.”
The Bulldogs loaded the bases in the top of the second against Southern Miss starter Karsen Pierce but got just one run in the frame. Senior third baseman Montana Davidson produced it with an RBI groundout before junior outfielder Chloe Malau’ulu hit into a fielder’s choice and Mia Davidson flied out to end the inning.
But in the ninth, the Bulldogs finally produced when they needed to most. Mia Davidson and Leilua both walked with one out in the inning, giving examples of the team-first at-bats Ricketts and her staff have been looking for over the past three weeks.
“A walk is just as good as a base hit,” Ricketts pointed out. “It’s a quality at-bat.”
Spexarth led the team with her three-hit night, and sophomore outfielder Brylie St. Clair added two of the Bulldogs’ nine base knocks. Leilua went 1 for 3 and added a pair of free passes to her SEC-leading walk total.
Williams was tossing a perfect game in the circle before Pierce homered to break up the bid in the fifth. The Bulldogs starter finished with seven strikeouts in five innings, allowing just two hits before Willis relieved her.
Mississippi State will hope to build on Wednesday’s win with a doubleheader Saturday at North Alabama as the Bulldogs continue their break from SEC action. Game 1 begins at 1 p.m., and Game 2 starts at 3:30 p.m.
Dawg notes: Infielder Aquana Brownlee pinch hit for fellow sophomore Paige Cook in the sixth inning Wednesday, marking Brownlee’s first appearance at the plate since injuring her hand on a bunt in the Bulldogs’ season opener Feb. 13. … Junior outfielder Anna Kate Segars departed during Mississippi State’s March 20 game against No. 5 Florida and has not played since. Ricketts said Segars is dealing with a medical issue unrelated to COVID-19 and that the team wants to get the outfielder back to 100 percent before she returns to the field.