STARKVILLE — With a 7-0 lead and two Bulldogs on base in the fourth inning of Friday’s game against Alcorn State, Mississippi State softball coach Samantha Ricketts issued shortstop Madisyn Kennedy a challenge: barrel up the ball and hit it to the opposite field.
The Braves had a pitcher throwing with little velocity, and Ricketts wanted to see Kennedy make an adjustment to the slower speed — practice for the change-ups the junior will see when Southeastern Conference play begins next week.
Instead, Kennedy — a right-handed hitter — pulled the ball to left center field for a three-run home run. So much for oppo.
“I thought she did a good job,” Ricketts said. “It still didn’t count because it wasn’t (to the) right side of the field, but definitely more on time, which was the point of the challenge.”
In two run-rule wins on Friday, Kennedy and Mississippi State had plenty of time to work out the kinks.
MSU finished off a 10-2 win over Alcorn State after beating Furman 10-1 earlier Friday to begin the Bulldog Invitational. Both games lasted just five innings as Mississippi State’s bats racked up 17 hits in all.
“It’s always good when you get that offensive production in both games, and it’s nice to see it happening up and down the lineup and being able to get different people in there,” Ricketts said.
The Bulldogs had struggled early on in the season, going 1-3 in their opening weekend and losing home games to Southern Illinois, Central Arkansas, Georgia Tech and South Alabama.
But against the Braves and Paladins on Friday, Mississippi State had little trouble. MSU scored in all four innings against Furman, then put up a seven-run second against Alcorn State.
“This is definitely the time to start warming up,” outfielder Chloe Malau’ulu said. “I know we had a kind of rough first couple weeks, but it’s just happy to see that we’ve really focused on the things that we needed to focus on in order to move us into a better spot moving into SEC.”
Malau’ulu had a two-run home run amid a three-RBI game against Furman, hitting her fifth long ball of the season. Prior to 2022, she had five career home runs in 89 games.
The senior said she focused more on contact hitting and getting on base last season, when she led off consistently for the Bulldogs.
“Now, I’m trying to put more behind the ball, and it’s paying off, so I’m happy to see that,” Malau’ulu said.
In her former place, freshman Riley Hull has excelled in the leadoff spot, going 3 for 5 between the two games. Hull had an RBI double and a sacrifice fly in Game 1 and plated a run on a single in Game 2.
Hull led off in high school but was nervous when Ricketts put her in the leadoff spot for Wednesday’s game against Mississippi Valley State. But the Kentucky native has been what the Bulldogs needed, leading to a wholehearted recommendation from Malau’ulu.
“She looks good up there,” Malau’ulu said. “She has really good at-bats all around. She sees the ball well, and she just hits the ball hard and puts it in play.”
It wasn’t just Hull: Mississippi State hit opposing pitching hard all night. The Bulldogs had two doubles and two home runs in each game, though one of the two-baggers came on a bunt by center fielder Brylie St. Clair. The junior from Alabama turned and raced for an uncovered second base after deadening the ball between home plate and the circle.
St. Clair, Hull, Malau’ulu, third baseman Paige Cook and catcher Mia Davidson each had three hits combined Friday. Davidson and Matalasi Faapito each homered for the Bulldogs.
For Davidson, it was her seventh home run since setting the SEC career record with 72 just two weeks ago. The nation’s leading home run hitter nearly had an eighth against Alcorn State but came just short.
“Finally, there’s just no pressure on her,” Ricketts said. “She can just play and have fun, and she’s doing that. By the end, everybody’s giving her a hard time because she’s hitting doubles off the wall and telling her she needs to hit the weight room.”
Mississippi State wraps up the Bulldog Invitational against Alcorn State at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.