STARKVILLE — Mia Davidson didn’t bother to lob the softball back to the plate.
The Mississippi State catcher had charged back to the backstop to scoop up the Paige Cook glove flip that sailed over her head. One Arizona runner had already scored, and Davidson took stock of another charging down the third-base line, but she held onto the ball.
By that point, it was too late.
Too late to keep a second Wildcats run from scoring. Too late for the Bulldogs to erase a 5-1 deficit that, moments later, got bigger. Too late to extend Mississippi State’s historic season even one more day.
Cook’s costly throwing error came in the midst of a seven-run fourth inning Saturday as Arizona overpowered Mississippi State 7-1, sweeping the Bulldogs in both games of NCAA Super Regional play at Nusz Park.
MSU’s season ended with a 37-27 record.
“It wasn’t an easy road to get here by any means,” MSU coach Samantha Ricketts said. “We had our ups and downs, our bumps and bruises along the way, but I think that’s why we’re on this stage right now and why we were one of the last 16 teams standing.”
MSU reached Super Regionals for the first time ever with a historic upset of No. 2 overall seed Florida State on Sunday in Tallahassee. The Bulldogs won four elimination games in two days and became one of just two teams to knock off a top-three national seed in regional play.
But with its back against the wall again Saturday, Mississippi State couldn’t overcome the pressure.
The Bulldogs committed two costly throwing errors as Arizona batted around in the fourth, sending 11 hitters to the plate and taking charge of Game 2.
Carlie Scupin’s two-run home run off Aspen Wesley put the Wildcats on top, and Arizona wasn’t done. After shortstop Madisyn Kennedy misfired for Cook on a toss to third, loading the bases for the Wildcats, Kenley Hawk relieved Wesley and promptly walked in a run.
Cook’s error brought home two more for Arizona, and Sharlize Palacios ripped a two-run single before the inning was finally put to bed.
At the worst time, the defensive miscues that hurt the Bulldogs throughout the season had reared their head.
“We talked about the snowball and the big inning all year long, and it’s kind of been our Achilles heel,” Ricketts said. “Unfortunately, not the stage to have an inning like that.
“Against a team like that, they’re going to capitalize on the mistakes. I thought we just gave them too many chances.”
Arizona didn’t give Mississippi State the same opportunities. Wildcats pitcher Devyn Netz buckled down to finish the final three innings, allowing just two baserunners.
Netz gave up just one run all game as Kennedy touched her for a line-drive single to the wall, driving in Addison Purvis from second base in the second inning. Purvis led off the inning with a double.
But Mississippi State promptly went from hitting doubles to hitting into double plays.
Twin killings ended the second, third and fourth innings as Arizona turned ground balls into two outs with ruthless efficiency.
MSU managed just three runs in the series against Netz and Friday starter Hanah Bowen.
“I think we just had to make adjustments sooner,” Davidson said. “And sometimes, balls weren’t dropping. They made good plays against us, and we just had to adjust. That was really it.”
Ricketts pointed to Arizona’s experience as a reason for its success in a postseason series on the road. The Wildcats were nearly flawless Saturday in advancing to the 25th Women’s College World Series in program history.
“We have so much respect for that program and that coaching staff, and it’s really an honor to be able to compete against them on this stage in Starkville,” Ricketts said.
It was a stage constructed for the first time at Nusz Park. MSU set a program attendance record on Friday and broke it Saturday, drawing more than 4,500 people in total.
For a team that had never hosted a regional, let alone a Super Regional, it was brand-new ground.
“It was really beyond anything that we could have imagined,” Ricketts said. “I hope that we made a couple thousand new fans and people that maybe tuned into softball for the first time. Hopefully they fell in love with the game and want to come back because it is an exciting game.”
It could be a while until the Bulldogs make it back here. Davidson played her final game with the program Saturday; so did her sister Montana, outfielder Allison Florian and top pitcher Annie Willis.
Both Willis and Mia Davidson are headed to the professional ranks after playing a big role in helping Mississippi State make history.
“We couldn’t do that without these two right here,” Ricketts said, indicating the duo on the podium.
But it wasn’t just them. Chloe Malau’ulu, Paige Cook and Aspen Wesley will lead next season’s Bulldogs to what MSU hopes is the same goal — or an even better one.
“The future is bright for this program,” Willis said. “There is no end to it. There is only just the beginning.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.