STARKVILLE — Paige Cook helped the Mississippi State softball team hang on a little longer in Sunday’s game against No. 18 Auburn at Nusz Park.
But all Cook could do was keep the Bulldogs from an early exit.
Her two-out, two-strike single — and an Auburn error — drove in two runs to keep MSU out of run-rule territory, but it was all the Bulldogs could muster in a 9-2 loss to the Tigers on Sunday.
Mississippi State (29-19, 8-10 Southeastern Conference) lost the weekend series to Auburn (36-10, 9-9 SEC) after a five-run second inning put the Tigers on top for good.
“I think we’ve kind of cooled off from our beginning SEC stretch, and we’ve got to find a way to get rolling again — in all three phases: pitching, hitting and defense,” coach Samantha Ricketts said. “When you’ve got two out of three, you can compete, and I thought we just didn’t have all three working today at all.”
Auburn posted a 5-2 win Saturday after MSU won the first game of the series 3-2 on Friday. The Tigers batted around in the second, finding various ways to score — a home run, a single, an error, a sac fly and a fielder’s choice.
Errors cost the Bulldogs yet again as a throw on a bunt in the second skipped down the right-field line, and a dropped pop-up in the fourth inning allowed another Auburn run to come in.
“We’re going to boot ground balls here and there, but the controllable ones — the mental mistakes, the throws, or the no-throws, when we hold the ball — those are the ones that are the frustrating ones,” Ricketts said.
Auburn added three runs in the fifth inning to push its lead to nine, good enough for a potential run rule. Nelia Peralta homered off Matalasi Faapito, and a triple and a single against Grace Fagan plated two more runs.
Of the four Mississippi State pitchers who stepped inside the circle Sunday, only Aspen Wesley — who recorded the final five outs — had a scoreless outing. Auburn scored its first five runs off Annie Willis, who exited before getting an out in the second.
Faapito gave up three runs over the next 3 1/3 innings, and Fagan allowed a run in her inning of work.
None of them was any match for Auburn’s Maddie Penta, who tossed a complete game for her 22nd win of the season — tied for third nationally.
Penta struck out 11 Bulldogs, scattering seven hits and one walk as she threw 139 pitches to help Auburn win the series.
“She has good movement,” Mississippi State catcher Mia Davidson said of Penta. “She gets ahead early. We’re also getting ourselves out. We’re swinging at bad pitches. We need to swing at better pitches, work the count better. That’s all you can do.”
Davidson and second baseman Shea Moreno each had two hits against Penta. Cook, shortstop Madisyn Kennedy and center fielder Brylie St. Clair had one apiece.
Cook’s liner into left center field in the fifth was misplayed by Lindsey García, allowing two runs to score as Mississippi State extended the game.
But Moreno struck out to strand two runners in the sixth, and the Bulldogs went down in order in the seventh.
Mississippi State has lost six of its past seven conference games, falling in the series finale against Missouri before being swept at No. 2 Alabama. The Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize after winning Friday’s series opener to clinch a series victory against Auburn.
MSU will host Southern Miss (27-17) at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The Golden Eagles beat the Bulldogs 3-0 on April 6 in Hattiesburg.
“I think we need to come back stronger next week, just get to work and make sure we get it going,” Davidson said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.