2B Heidi Shape's two-out single in the bottom of the sixth scored LF Jessica Offutt from second base for the margin needed to invoke the league's run rule. By taking the rubber-game the Bulldogs have won three-straight series and are 37-16, 9-12 SEC going into the last conference weekend, with NCAA opportunity increasing at every success.
"Right now we're putting it all together," said Coach Van Stuedeman, who won her 100th and now 101st career games at Mississippi State this weekend.
It's probably sweeter than any of our other wins," C Sam Lenahan said. And she said a lot considering that in the past two weekends the Bulldogs had knocked off #2 Alabama at home and #4 Tennessee on the road in dramatic fashions. But the senior had her good reasons. "It's awesome to win the final game that I'm ever going to play on this field. And, it's the fashion that we did it in."
Fine fashion at that. After bouncing back from Friday's 6-4 loss, Mississippi State had shelled the Razorbacks Saturday to square the series. They used the run-rule in that one as well. Sunday was a tighter contest, scoreless into the bottom of the third when the Bulldogs blew it open with six runs.
"We kept fighting, we kept fighting and finally had the big inning," said Lenahan. "And for Heidi to get the walk-off was awesome."
Stuedeman came into the series concerned that the team could come down a little too far after their program-defining successes of the previous weekends. And, that Senior Day emotions were another possible distraction to a team that really has been getting everything together at the right time. After dropping the opener, the Dogs responded superbly. Her seniors in particular.
"Friday helped us get back to ourselves," Lenahan said. "You have to work the process and at the end of the day look at the scoreboard."
"It's awesome for them to leave on a winning series, not just a game. And to win at a series at home," Stuedeman said.
Arkansas (27-24, 5-16) didn't make it easy, as pitcher Kelly Young threw three hitless innings at the Bulldogs. State starter Alexis Silkwood, one of the impressive freshmen on this 2014 team, worked harder as she had two runners on base in the first inning. Consecutive swinging strikeouts stranded them and from there Silkwood (12-5) was dominant. She didn't allow another hit in her ensuing three-plus innings. For 4.2 total turns she struck out nine with no walks.
Bulldog batters got to Young in that decisive fourth. #3 batter Caroline Seitz started it with a single and took second on a wild pitch. Lenahan, a deep threat on a windy day, was walked—one of three free passes given the cleanup batter—but State got the bunt executed to advance both. Arkansas played the percentages with a bases-loading walk for a force anywhere and brought in the defense.
DP Katie Bailey foiled it though with a single on the first pitch scoring pinch-runner Olivia Golden for all the runs State would need. Not that they were stopping with one. Stuedeman put in Mackenzie Toler to pinch hit and while Arkansas looked for something dumped in front of the plate Toler stung a single through the tight left side scoring Lenahan.
Rachael Zdeb's grounder to the third baseman was going to score at least one run anyway, but the Razorback's delayed throw was dropped at first base. Bailey and Logan Foulks scored on the error, and for good measure Arkansas defenders relaxed as if the play was over allowing a runner to go from first to third. That meant she could score on Offut's 0-2 grounder. Offutt stole second, then took off for third drawing a throw that got away for the 6-0 lead. Aggressive and heads-up basework had turned a good inning into a decisive one as much as any hitting.
Silkwood returned for two quick outs in the top of the fifth, before Shana Sherrod was given the third out to get and did. Still up 6-0 after five it was senior Alison Owen handed the ball. She got a strikeout, adding to her MSU-record career total, and a pop-out before a base hit. A pop-foul ended that inning which would prove Owens' last time to toe the home-field rubber.
Because in their half the Bulldogs added the two needed runs to rule, both after two outs. Loryn Nichols walked and Offutt reached on an error that allowed Nichols to score from first. With Offutt on second, Shape dropped a drive in leftfield for the eighth and finishing score.
"Silk pitched awesome, Shannon came in and did a good job," said Owen. "So I came in and spun some pitches and got it done." And yes, Owen added, she wasn't going to miss the last home game. "I always want the ball!"
The Dogs did all their damage with just five hits, but drew six walks and benefitted from three official errors and several more mental letdowns by Arkansas. All-star nominee Seitz was 2-of-3 at the plate. Offutt did not get a hit, though she is State's best SEC-game batter, but scored twice and drove in another run. Six other Bulldogs got to score a run, some seniors included.
"I couldn't be prouder," Stuedeman said. "All of them played and contributed. And what a fun day for them and their families."
Now with the program's best 53-game record ever the Bulldogs will play to win one final regular season series and possible balance out their league record with a trip to Louisiana State.