KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Briana Bell and Ka'ili Smith had run-scoring base hits in a three-run second inning, and sophomore Stephanie Becker held No. 4/6 Tennessee scoreless over the final five innings to lead the Mississippi State softball team to a 3-2 upset of the Lady Vols in the series finale Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Bulldogs salvaged the final game of the series to improve to 23-26 overall and 9-13 in SEC play. The win snapped a 12-game UT win streak and dropped the Lady Vols to 41-7 and 17-5 in the conference.
Bell, who hit .500 in the three-game series, had the two-run double in the third before coming back with a single later in the game. Smith's RBI base hit in the second capped a 2-for-4 afternoon for the Kapolei, Hawaii, native.
Becker drew her third-straight start on the weekend and responded with a complete-game effort. The Aurora, Ill., native, who tossed 16.1 innings in the three games, scattered seven hits and allowed two runs over the first pair of innings.
"It was great to bounce back with the win today, especially after being held without a hit yesterday. It was big for our ballclub to come out and get some runs on the scoreboard, and Stephanie Becker put in another great performance on the mound," Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller said. "It was big for us to have Briana come through and drive in those first two runs. Ka'ili also did a great job hitting in that three-run inning. After being shutout twice, we needed to get on the board, and that was a big step for our ballclub. I wish we could have scored some more runs for Stephanie, but those three ended up being enough. At this point in the season, we'll take the win any way we can get it."
After failing to capitalize on Ali Bainbridge's 13th double of the season in the opening inning, the Bulldogs put the decisive three runs across in the second to rally from a 1-0 deficit.
Heidi Shape started the inning by beating out a ground ball to shortstop. Shelby Fisher and Bainbridge drew a pair of walks to load the bases, and Bell put the Dawgs in front with a double to left-center field.
Bainbridge, who made a stellar slide to get into third on Bell's hit, gave MSU the 3-1 lead as she scored on Smith's two-out base hit through the left side.
The three-run burst chased UT starter Ellen Renfroe. She allowed the three runs and four hits in two innings before giving way to her sister, Ivy, for the final five frames.
Tennessee cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the second when Kat Dotson hit a one-out single and came around to score on a Kelly Grieve sacrifice fly. The Bulldogs avoided any further trouble, however, as Sam Lenahan took the throw at home and tossed out Chavanne trying to take third.
The Bulldogs earned a pair of walks in the top of the fourth off Ivy Renfroe, but they were unable to scratch across any insurance runs as a strikeout ended the inning.
Becker and the MSU defense preserved the 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Tennessee got a single from Chavanne and a walk to Gibson. State issued an intentional pass to Spigner, but Becker got Melissa Davin to fly out to right field to leave the bases loaded.
State missed an opportunity of its own in the top of the seventh. With one out, Bainbridge reached on an error by UT shortstop Melissa Brown. Bell followed with her second hit of the game, and Smith loaded the bases with a ground ball that made its way through the left side of the infield.
A pair of strikeouts by Ivy Renfroe, however, left the bases full of Bulldogs.
Becker sealed the win with a solid seventh inning. She got Chavanne, who had been put out just once in the series, to fly out to right field to open the inning. Kelly Grieve also flew out to Bell in right, and after Gibson kept UT alive with a base hit, Becker fanned Shelby Burchell to notch the victory.
The Bulldogs wrap the 2011 home slate next weekend, taking on No. 23 LSU in a three-game SEC series at the MSU Softball Field. Friday's opener is set for 5 p.m., and the first 25 youth fans will be able to participate in the Friday Night Kid Fan Zone. They will receive an MSU softball t-shirt and pom-pom, and they will be allowed to help retrieve foul balls and lead fans in cheers.
Saturday's game, which is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start, is being billed as "White Out the Tigers Day." The first 100 fans will receive a free white t-shirt, and the Fan of the Game will receive a free pizza from Old Venice.
Sunday's finale is slated for 1:30 p.m. and will be televised by SportSouth. Prior to the game, Mississippi State will recognize seniors Ali Bainbridge, Courtney Nesbit and Chelsea Raines.
Admission to all three games against the Tigers is free, and a free, live audio stream of each game will be available at www.mstateathletics.com/m2mlive.
Track & Field
OXFORD, Miss. - Personal records were the story of the day as Mississippi State concluded action at the Mississippi Open with six victories and 20 new personal bests.
"Our guys had a good day today," MSU coach Steve Dudley said. "They ran strong, and I am happy with where we are heading into the Penn Relays."
For the second week in a row, Ed Wesela led the Bulldogs with his two victories. The junior claimed the top prize in the shot put with his throw of 57-05 ¾, then went on to win the discus with a throw of 169-01.
The Bulldog freshmen had a good day as John Valentine won the 3000m steeplechase (9:23.13), Michael Clark brought home victory in the 5000m run (15:29.08), James Harris took second in the 400m dash (46:41), and Marcus Jackson had the second place high jump with his height of 6-11 ¾.
Also claiming victory for MSU was the 4x100m relay team of Justin Christian, D'Angelo Cherry, Tavaris Tate, and Harris (39.68).
"The girls were on top of their game today," Dudley commented. "They are really starting to gel as a team and preparing for what lies ahead at the end of the season."
Rochelle Farquharson was the top finisher for the Lady Bulldogs. The freshman took top prize in the long jump (20-07 ¾) ahead of teammate Sojourner Ewing who finished fifth (18-11 ¼).
Moving up on the MSU all-time list were Richesa McCaleb and Taneisha Baker. McCaleb moved to third all-time in the 100m dash with her third place finish Saturday (11.61). Baker finished third in the 400m dash (53.74) to move to fourth on the MSU all-time list.
"We are heading into the home stretch of our schedule and things are fixing to get tough," Dudley stated. "We have got to start working hard and coming together as a team, if we want to achieve our goal of ending the year as a national contender."
MSU next see action on Thursday, when they travel to Philadelphia, Penn., for the historic Penn Relays.