Softball Returns To Both NCAA And Lafayette

The word was expected. Still there was just enough uncertainty, that when good word came the Bulldogs let loose a cheer tinged with relief. Mississippi State softball is back in the NCAA Tournament.

For a fourth-straight year, and the 12th time in the program’s two decade history, Bulldog softball received an at-large bid to the national championships. Mississippi State (35-19) will be assigned to the Lafayette Regional and play Baylor at 5:30 Friday. Host and #13 national seed Lafayette plays Weber State later in the evening.

Infielder Julia Echols has been through this selection Sunday drill all her college career. And still, “It never gets old,” the senior said. “It gets better and better every time and this being my last time I’m definitely going to cherish every minute of it.”

“You know you’re going to the post-season. You’re just waiting to see where you’re going. We’re excited to be going back to ULL, I think we play well there. And we’re excited to be close enough to have some fans come with it.”

“I’m thrilled to be dancing,” Coach Vann Stuedeman said. “This is one of the best times of the year if not the best time of the year.”

Like Christmas, a NCAA selection has become part of Mississippi State’s calendar. This bid makes Stuedeman four-for-four in producing NCAA Tournament teams since taking over in Starkville.

The assignment is actually a return trip. A year ago the Bulldogs were sent to Lafayette where they lost twice to Texas around a win over Texas Southern. They did not play the host team but that doesn’t diminish the sense of a ‘rematch’ for the coach.

“It feels very fresh to all of us,” Stuedeman said. “Like it was only yesterday.”

For pitcher Alexis Silkwood a return to Lafayette is welcomed. “It just exciting to go back to some place we’ve already seen. I’m ready to go right now!” Sophomore Silkwood will be in the circle Friday for first pitch, and probably a lot more pitches in ensuing days if the Bulldogs hang around.

Stuedeman’s three previous NCAA participants have combined for a 2-6 record in these double-elimination Regionals. State’s deepest NCAA run was back in 2005 with two wins and two losses at the Austin Regional also. MSU is 11-22 in all their eleven appearances.

Earning a berth in the national tourney takes some sting from last week’s one-day appearance in the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs were run-ruled by Missouri in the first round. Still just making the league meet was another success for what all conceded was to be something of a rebuilding season.

Echols is clear about her ambitions for the last NCAA trip. “You don’t want to look too far ahead but we’re going in there to make some waves. We’re not looking at it as an experience, that’s our Regional to win.”

Now, whatever happens at Lafayette and however long the Bulldogs stay in the games, these 2015 post-season experiences should prove more useful to a 2016 team. Expectations will be higher a year from now as Stuedeman and squad returning most of the major parts. Four seniors finish in this NCAA Tournament, only one—infielder Julia Echols—who started every SEC game in the regular season.

Stuedeman couldn’t help thanking the upperclassmen who get to go out in style, as well as think what the returning core of proven players as well as some incoming signees can do when their teams are selected.

“I’m excited for this senior class, they’re only one of two in Mississippi State softball history to go to the post-season four years in a row. And really proud of our five sophomores that have put us on their backs and carried us through this season, especially Alexis Silkwood. I’m just really happy for all of us who have ground it out all year and are ready to get back to Lafayette. And, right some wrongs!”


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