STARKVILLE, Miss. - Three Bulldogs collected hits and senior Chelsea Raines drove in a run in her final home game as the Mississippi State softball team wrapped the 2011 home slate with a 3-1 setback to No. 21 LSU Sunday afternoon at the MSU Softball Field.
The loss dropped MSU to 23-29 overall and 9-16 in league play, but Florida's win against South Carolina clinched the Bulldogs the eight seed in the SEC Tournament that will be played May 12-14 in Oxford.
"One of the goals starting the year was to make it back to the SEC Tournament. After all the injuries we've had I wasn't sure if we would have a chance to make it, but this group is a bunch of fighters," Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller said. "I've been pleased with the way they have played all year in terms of battling and keeping their work ethic and intensity up, and now they have an opportunity to make a run. Win three games and you make the NCAA Tournament. We've faced some of the toughest teams in the league the past few weeks, so it's good preparation for us going into the tournament."
Sophomore Jessica Cooley, junior Ka'ili Smith and freshman Sam Lenahan collected the Bulldogs' three hits in the game.
The trio was State's top three hitters in the home-ending series. Smith paced the Dawgs with a .444 batting average (4-for-9), and Cooley belted a triple and home run as part of a 4-for-11 (.364 average) plate performance against the Tigers (35-15, 16-9 SEC). Lenahan notched a pair of hits in six at-bats while drawing five walks.
State was unable to overcome an Anissa Young first-inning, two-run home run off sophomore Stephanie Becker, who was drawing her third start in as many games.
Becker, who fell to 7-9 in the complete-game effort, settled down after the home run and retired 16 of the next 21 hitters she faced until the seventh.
"I thought Stephanie settled down after that first inning. It was a couple of bad pitches in that first inning that LSU took advantage of, but she did a nice job of settling down," Miller said. "We have to do a better job at the plate. We are hurting ourselves having bad at-bats and not adjusting. I liked how our team kept battling and scratched across a run, but it was just too late."
Morgan Russell opened the inning with a single, and pinch-runner Cassie Trosclair moved to third on a Jacee Blades blooper to right that bounced away from a diving Briana Bell. Two batters later, Simone Heyward hit a sacrifice fly to right that brought Trosclair home and gave LSU the 3-0 advantage.
As they have done all season, the Dawgs continued to fight and put the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Senior Courtney Nesbit drew a walk in her final plate appearance at the MSU Softball Field, and Lenahan followed with a single to left-center.
The pair advanced on a wild pitch, and Raines scored pinch-runner Jessica Offutt with a groundout to third base.
LSU starter Brittany Mack earned the win as she got a fly ball from Cooley to end the game. Mack ran her record to 16-5 as she allowed the run and three hits while striking out 10 in the complete-game effort.
The Bulldogs wrap the non-conference slate Tuesday, traveling to Birmingham for a 4 p.m. first pitch against Samford. State closes the 2011 regular season next weekend as it ventures to Athens to take on fourth-ranked Georgia in a three-game SEC series that gets underway Friday.