Silkwood, Softball Return To Lafayette

Most college athletes try by their sophomore varsity seasons to act like cool, calm veterans all the time. Especially on NCAA selection day. They’ll cheer, pump a fist maybe or some short show of emotion, then…cool again. Well, if Alexis Silkwood ever starts acting cool, teammates will know something is wrong.

Take her response to Mississippi State’s selection for the softball national championships. “I feel like I’m seven again!” Alexis Silkwood grins, unabashedly.

Well, she is not seven. She turned 20 in March and is a full-growed sophomore pitcher, a two-season veteran now of Southeastern Conference contests, and on a fast track to setting all sorts of Bulldog records before her career is played. And still the kid comes out given half a chance. Just like her description of looking at the Lafayette Regional field where Mississippi State plays this weekend.

“It’s like all the presents at Christmas, look at what all you have right there in front of you!”

Silkwood and the Bulldogs could see this Regional as a holiday. For Coach Vann Stuedeman and staff, a weekend in Lafayette looks different. Oh, it is what they wanted and even expected with assignment to a regional Regional. Lafayette is also tied to Auburn for the super regional round.

To get as far as Auburn, assuming the SEC Tournament champions do win their own regional, means beating a stacked field in Lafayette. “It’s a loaded Regional,” Stuedeman said. Mississippi State (35-19) has drawn Baylor for Friday’s 5:30 game. Afterwards the host and #13 national seed Cajuns play Weber State. No 1-through-4 seeds are announced for softball as in baseball, but obviously Baylor and the Bulldogs are the 2/3 teams in whatever order. Which, doesn’t matter.

While Lafayette has the obvious home-field advantage, veteran Bulldogs aren’t new to this venue. Only last year State played in this same Regional site, losing twice to Texas around a victory over Texas Southern. Yes, it’s twelve whole months, but getting re-acquainted won’t take long for Silkwood and squad.

“It’s exciting to go back somewhere we’ve already seen,” Silkwood said.

And in her own case, already pitched. As a true freshman Silkwood was in the circle in last year’s elimination round game with Texas Southern. With the season on the line, she set a program freshman record and tied the State NCAA Tourney record too with 13 strikeouts. The next day she worked well in a 4-3 elimination loss to the Longhorns.

Her NCAA feats gave Silkwood 167 strikeouts for the rookie season with a 14-8 record and 2.91 ERA. That was as the alternate starter to Allison Owen, now an assistant coach with State. Taking over ace status Silkwood will carry a 25-14 record, 2.81 ERA into the NCAAs. Oh, and her first strikeout Friday will be the 200th of her season.

No wonder then that as Stuedeman talked of how the 2015 Bulldogs have earned their way back into the national tournament, she stressed contributions by the whole sophomore class but named one.

“I’m really proud of our five sophomores who have put on their backs and carried us this season, especially Alexis Silkwood,” the coach said.

For her part, soph Silkwood credits her elders for setting the team’s tone. This after all was forecast as somewhat of a rebuilding year for Bulldog softball. Graduations from ’14 and simple youth of so many key parts, as well as lack of starting pitching depth, made ’15 an open question as far as post-season potential.

Silkwood has certainly done her part, along with the defense and hitting by classmates like Katie Anne Bailey (.351, 5 HR, 33 RBI), Caroline Seitz (.319, 13 HR, 51 RBI), Mackenzie Toler (.338, 7, 38), Amanda Ivy (.336, 5, 37) and so on. Along with junior Kayla Winkfield and other returning Dogs, not to mention a recruiting class Stuedeman already touts, this program is accelerating.

But…somebody had to ‘bridge’ things over. The seniors, said Silkwood.

“Oh hands down they’re the most selfless, excellent competitive girls on this team. We have great leadership in all four of them. Julia Echols and Erica Gaul in the infield are just amazing with their leadership. And we have K.G. (Katie Gentile) and Ashley Phillips who have wisdom in the dugout and in the outfield.”

Every atom of that experience, leadership, wisdom, and oh yes their talents will be needed if Mississippi State intends to really enjoy the return trip to Lafayette. Yes, they wanted another chance, Silkwood said. That was obvious when the pairings flashed on ESPN’s screen.

“I was looking down at my bracket and you could feel the eruption and excitement. It’s just so much fun. And it being within a bus ride to be able to have some great Mississippi State fans make the trip down there. It’s very warming to the heart, and I’m ready to go right now.”

The Bulldogs leave Wednesday, and will have a Thursday practice at the site. Then it's game day...or is it a holiday?

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