News from MSU Media Relations--Mar. 4, 2012.

The latest sports news from the MSU Media Relations Department...Softball and Men's Tennis.

Softball
Starkville, Miss. - Sunday was no day of rest for the Mississippi State softball team's offense, as the Maroon and White cranked out a season-high 16 hits for the second-consecutive day en route to an 11-5 victory against Samford at the MSU Softball Stadium. State (14-5) wrapped up the Bulldog Classic with a perfect 5-0 record on the weekend and is riding its longest winning streak since the 2009 squad won eight in a row over three years ago.

"We're extremely pleased with this weekend and excited about starting the second season," head coach Vann Stuedeman said. "Ultimately, the game has no memory, so it does not matter what has happened behind us. We'll move forward one moment at a time and one pitch at a time."

Junior left fielder Jessica Cooley wrapped up the best week of her career with another stellar day at the dish, finishing 2-for-3 with a career-high tying five RBIs and her first career grand slam. In six games this week, the Birmingham, Ala., native drove in 17 teammates in 19 at-bats, tallied 10 hits, scored eight times and belted five tape-measure shots over the fence.

Fellow junior Stephanie Becker picked up her seventh win inside the circle, striking out six Samford batters in 4.0 innings of work. Senior left-handed pitcher Lindsey Dunlap relieved her southpaw teammate and notched her first save since 2010, tossing 3.0 innings of hitless ball thanks in part to a season-high seven strikeouts.

After falling behind 3-0 in the first, the host Bulldogs stormed back with a season-high six first-inning runs. Leadoff hitter Ka'ili Smith started the Bully barrage by depositing a 3-2 offering down the line in left. The flying Hawaiian scored after junior first baseman Shelby Fisher reached on a throwing error by the shortstop. Senior designated player Brittany Bell advanced Fisher to second when she extended her school record of career hit by pitches to 38. Sophomore third baseman Sam Lenahan was able to jump on first when her grounder to third forced Fisher out at third. With Lenahan and Bell aboard, sophomore second baseman Heidi Shape loaded the bases with an infield single to the Samford shortstop.

That set the stage for Cooley, whose bat exploded through the zone on a 2-2 pitch for her first career grand salami. Now leading 5-3, freshman right fielder Ashley Phillips stepped into the box and singled to right on another 2-2 count. Showing her wheels, the native Mississippian stole her sixth base of the season, putting her in scoring position for center fielder Jessica Offutt. The sophomore ensured MSU would bat around in the first when she doubled to the gap in left, driving in Phillips for a commanding 6-3 lead.

Following a double and a run scored by Fisher in the second to increase Samford's deficit to four runs, the visitors barked back with two runs in the top of the fourth. Just like the second frame, Fisher led off the fourth by reaching base. The Arizona native sprinted to second after Bell lined out to shortstop and attempted to double-up Fisher at first, but instead sailed it into the tarp in foul territory. With Fisher on second and MSU leading by a score of 7-5, Lenahan drove her in with a hard and low single to left.

The Maroon and White plated its final three runs in the fifth inning, which started with singles by Offutt, Smith and Fisher. With the bases juiced, Bell roped her first pitch to right for an RBI single. Offutt scored and Smith was thrown out at home on the play. Lenahan then reached on a fielder's choice when Fisher was thrown out at third on the force for the second time in the game. Bell and Lenahan took to their next base on a passed ball. The two crossed home thanks to RBI singles by Shape and Cooley, respectively.

With the first part of the season over with, Starkville's team will host No. 3/3 Florida for a doubleheader Wednesday at the Dawg Diamond in both school's Southeastern Conference opener. For more information regarding the showdown, follow the team on Twitter at @MStateSB and like the team at Facebook.com/MStateSB.


Men's Tennis
STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State's 14th-ranked men's tennis squad (11-2, 2-0 SEC) extended their win streak to seven matches on Sunday as the Bulldogs downed No. 12 Auburn (10-4, 0-1 SEC) 5-2, finishing undefeated in the opening weekend of Southeastern Conference play.

The seven-match streak is MSU's longest since State's 1998 NCAA semifinal team started the season on a 7-0 run. Also, head coach Per Nilsson remained undefeated against the Tigers in his five-year tenure with Mississippi State.

"I am excited we are off to a 2-0 SEC start," head coach Per Nilsson said. "We knew this would be a tough weekend coming in so I am proud of how our guys played. We can still get better but its' exciting to know that we are beating really good teams and there is still room for improvement. Our goal is to get better and our guys are working extremely hard to do so."

Beginning with doubles play, the MSU duo of George Coupland and Artem Ilyushin set the tone for the Bulldogs as they were to first to finish with an 8-3 triumph on court 2 over Dan Cochrane and Alex Stamchev of Auburn.

The doubles clincher came from the top spot where 23rd-ranked Louis Cant and Malte Stropp took on the Tiger tandem of Andreas Mies and Lukas Ollert. With both teams having trouble holding serve, the Bulldogs were able to take a late break from Auburn and serve out to take the match 8-6, giving the Bulldogs the 1-0 lead following doubles action.

On court 3, a tight back-and-forth battle played out as the match went to an 8-8 tiebreaker, which Auburn's Lucas Lopasso and Rafael Rondino took in a tight decision 9-8(10).

Swinging to singles action, Auburn's Alex Stamchev evened the match for the Tigers as he claimed a 6-4, 6-1 decision from Chaudry in the second spot.

The Bulldogs, however, would quickly answer as MSU's 41st-ranked Coupland downed Auburn's Lopasso 6-2, 6-4 (his eighth win in a row) at No. 5 regaining the lead for MSU at 2-1. Yet again, the Tigers would answer as Michael Wardell ousted State's Zach White 6-2, 6-4 on court 6, squaring the match at 2-2.

But Wardell's win would be Auburn's last of the day as Mississippi State would claim the last three matches of the day, all of which were close.

For his fifth win in a row, four coming against opponents ranked in the top 35, State's 27th-ranked Ilyushin played an energetic match to down his 20th-ranked Auburn foe, Mies, 7-5, 6-2 in the top spot, extending the Bulldog lead to 3-2.

"Artem has really been playing well," head coach Per Nilsson said. "His energy really motivates the team and keeps the crowd into the matches."

As courts 3 and 4 were still in progress, the match-clincher ultimately came from No. 3 where 75th-ranked Stropp concluded an impressive three-set comeback for his sixth consecutive victory. Dropping the first 6-3 to Auburn's Cochrane, Stropp would turn around and take the second set in the same fashion. In the third, Stropp would keep the momentum as he quickly downed his Auburn foe 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 and clinched the match at 4-2 for State.

With a 10-match win streak on the line, No. 37 Cant of MSU was in a tight battle on court 4. Down 4-2 in the first, Cant would battle back to take a very important 7-6(7) tiebreaker from 118th-ranked Ollert of Auburn. With the second set proving to be a fight as well, Cant would eventually best his Tiger foe, breaking him in the last game of the match for a 7-6(7), 7-5 win.

The Bulldogs now make a quick turn around for a big matchup as they are back in action this Tuesday, March 6, host the No. 4 Cavaliers of Virginia in a marquee non-conference battle. Match time is set for 2 p..m CT at MSU's A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre and admission is free.


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