"Because we have two tournaments at home this season, I don't think the season will be as wearing on our team," said Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller. "We travel on alternating weekends rather than being on the road every weekend like we were last year. This will give us a little bit more rest and give the girls the opportunity to play at home in front of our fans."
The Bulldogs return six position starters for the current campaign, including SEC Softball Athlete of the Year and first team NFCA all-American Iyhia McMichael, as well as 20-game winner Melissa Massey. With the inclusion of McMichael in its cavalry, State will bring back four .300+ hitters from its powerful lineup that finished the 2003 slate as the best batting order in the SEC.
As for its competition this weekend, MSU has faced just one of the three teams since the program was reintegrated into the varsity program in 1997. State's meeting with Jackson State will mark a first for the two programs, while its meeting with Bradley will be the first action between the two programs since the 1986 season.
Bradley is bringing back 15 letterwinners and six starters from its 2003 team that finished with a 16-35 overall record and a ninth place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Braves have plenty of experience returning, including a pair of seasoned pitchers and a powerful hitter in senior Laura Harms who led BU with a .352 average in 2003 en route to being drafted in the NPF Senior Pro Draft in December.
State last split a doubleheader with the Braves on March 18, 1986, taking the front end of the twinbill, 2-1, but dropping the back end by a 6-0 count. Bradley is led by first year head coach Venus Taylor who skippered Lake City CC to a No. 9 ranking in the final 2002 NJCAA top 25 before helping Georgia Tech to an NCAA Regional berth last season as an assistant coach.
The most experienced group in the tournament field will likely be Louisiana Tech who returns all 14 letterwinners from its 2003 squad that turned in a 16-42 clip and a fifth place finish in the Western Athletic Conference. Among its three returning pitchers, senior Marla Pinkston will represent the team as the staff ace after compiling a 11-18 record on a respectable 2.29 ERA last season for the Lady Techsters. Louisiana Tech will bring back .308 hitter Brittany Stanley to pace the offense.
Mississippi State has faced Louisiana Tech 10 times, but only once since the 1986 season. In 1997, the Bulldogs snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Lady Techsters with a 3-2 victory at home on April 25, 1997. Louisiana Tech is led by second-year head coach Sarah Dawson who served as an assistant at her alma mater, Louisiana-Monroe, in 2002 following a stint in pro softball.
Although a very young squad, Jackson State will return seven letterwinners and six starters for the 2004 season, including senior Makida Zackery who led the Tigers with three home runs and 19 RBI in its run to an 11-28 record and a third place finish in the Eastern Division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
A pair of meetings with the Tigers this weekend will mark the first for State in the history of its program. Jackson State is skippered by first-year head coach Kenya Peters who made her mark as a standout catcher at Southern Miss (1999-02).
2004 BULLDOG ROUND-ROBIN SCHEDULE
All Games Played At The Mississippi State Softball Field
Friday, Feb. 6
Saturday, Feb. 7
Sunday, Feb. 8