Softball Bulldogs Overpower No. 10 Tennessee

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- What started off as a pitchers' duel, turned out to be just another day at the office for the Maroon and White.<P> Hot-handed Mississippi State (38-22) erupted for five runs in the sixth inning to help an overpowering Kelli Miller cruise to her sixth-straight victory as the Bulldogs upset No. 10 and second-seeded Tennessee (51-14) 8-2 in the first round of the SEC Tournament Thursday afternoon at the Alabama Softball Complex.

Lindsay Nelson drove in a pair and scored once on a 2-for-4 tally, and Kate Jaspers tallied a RBI and crossed the plate once to spark an eight-hit outburst for the Maroons. Callye Williams highlighted a 1-for-3 day with a towering two-run blast off the leftfield scoreboard, while Tanelda McDonald also added a pair of RBI and scored once on a 1-for-4 hitting line. Senior all-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year Iyhia McMichael had her 17-game hitting streak snapped on a 0-for-1 clip with a walk, two hit by pitches and three runs scored, but reached base safely for the 36th consecutive game and the 59th game this season.

Sarah Fekete (2-for-2, BB) and Lindsay Schutzler (3-for-4) keyed an 11-hit attack for the Lady Vols and helped Tennessee achieve a double-digit hitting tally for the seventh straight time against the Bulldogs, but the Lady Vols still failed to get the clutch hits when they needed them most.

Although allowing 10 hits over five and two-thirds innings of work, Miller (11-8) prevented Tennessee from scoring through the first five innings of the contest and struck out a pair, both of which came on Stacey Jennings' at-bats. MSU reliever Stephanie Comeaux worked the last four outs of the ball game and picked up her third save of the campaign after surrendering just one hit and one walk. SEC Pitcher of the Year Monica Abbott (42-7), who has worked a large bulk of the innings for the Lady Vols this season, allowed a season-high eight runs on eight hits and two walks to saddle the loss for the Orange.

The win helped Mississippi State snap a three-game losing skid at the SEC Tournament and a four-game losing streak to the Lady Vols. State's win was its 10th consecutive and the third-longest winning streak in program history. The win was also State's 16th triumph in its last 18 outings and marked the Maroon and White's school record 10th win over a nationally ranked opponent in 2004.

"This is the most our team has ever jelled," said McMichael of the team's current surge. "You know that everybody has everbody's back and everybody is going to do their job and everybody is going to pull together. Someone different has always stepped up and got the big hit or made the big play.

"I think that is what is so exciting about our team and the reason we were able to turn it around this last part of the season. It gave me chills playing out there today because everbody was playing so hard."

After two quiet innings due to a very strong showing by Abbott, Mississippi State finally jumped out in front 1-0 in the third, getting McMichael aboard via a one-out walk, then using a walk and a stolen base to set the table for a run-scoring double by Jaspers.

With runners at first and third and one out in the sixth, Blaire Brown delivered a seeing-eye single through the right side to score McMichael from third and push MSU's advantage out to 2-0, but Abbott looked to recover moments later by striking out Nelson. The Bulldogs would not go down that easily though. McDonald's two-run double to the gap in left centerfield preceded Williams' two-run blast that put the Lady Vols into a state of shock.

"We have been working on the big inning all year," said Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller. "Once teams get one or two runs, a lot of times they will have the tendency to sit back and say 'all right, we got enough and let's let our pitchers do the work.' From the first tournament on, once we got ahead, we try to put teams away and put the pressure on them. I thought we did a good job of that today. When they scored a couple of runs in the sixth, we came right back and answered in the seventh."

Tennessee got RBI knocks from Lauren Mattox and Katherine Card in the bottom half of the sixth to cut the UT deficit to four runs, but State answered with a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh on a two-run single from Nelson.

"We know exactly where everbody is on the field and we can feel everybody's movements," Nelson said. "We can also feel the intensity that is kept up in the dugout. We're just one complete unit right now."

Mississippi State will return to action Friday afternoon when the Bulldogs suit up to face the winner of Thursday's second game between third-seeded Georgia and sixth-seeded Florida. First pitch of that contest has been slated for 5 p.m. Ticket information for the 2004 SEC Softball Tournament can be obtained by calling the University of Alabama Ticket Office at (205) 348-BAMA or toll free at (877) TIDE.TIX.

MISSISSIPPI STATE 8, TENNESSEE 2
Mississippi State (38-22) 001 005 2 - 8 8 0
Tennessee (51-14) 000 002 0 - 2 11 0
Miller and Waterman. Abbott and Mattox. W ­ Miller (11-8). L ­ Abbott (42-7). Save ­ Comeaux (3). HR ­ MSU, Williams. 2B ­ MSU, Jaspers, Nelson, McDonald. UT, Schutzler, Brewer, Card. HBP ­ McMichael 2.


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