MSU Softball Wins in Extra Innings.

LINCOLN, Neb. - Iowa pitcher Lisa Birocci's errant throw with one out in the bottom of the eighth brought pinch runner Keri McFarling across the plate for Mississippi State as the fourth-seeded Bulldogs picked up their first extra-inning victory of the season with a 2-1 defeat of fifth-seeded Iowa Thursday afternoon at the NCAA Region 5 Tournament in Lincoln, Neb.

State (39-24) got one hit apiece from six different players, including Hayle Guess (1-for-3) who singled and drove in a key run in the fourth. Senior all-American Iyhia McMichael reached base safely for the 39th consecutive game with a single in the first, then moved into first on MSU's single season walks list with a free pass in the fifth. Lindsay Nelson crossed the plate once on a 1-for-3 hitting line. Iowa (38-23) got a pair of multi-hit tallies, including one from Kylie Murray who drove in a run on a 2-for-4 performance.

MSU starter Melissa Massey (18-9) showed near-dominance of the Iowa batting order before the Hawkeye rally in the sixth and picked up the complete game victory after striking out four and allowing just one earned run on five hits. Iowa starter Ali Arnold struck out five and surrendered just one earned run in four innings of work, but gave way to Birocci after walking McMichael in the fifth. Birocci (21-13) picked up the tough-luck loss for the Hawkeyes despite surrendering just one hit in three and one-thirds innings of work.

"Iowa did a great job," said Mississippi State assistant coach Annie Smith. "They're a great ball club and they're always really fundamentally sound. They have great pitchers and we just happened to be fortunate there at the end. We never gave up though. We fought the entire game and played together. You have to be proud of the effort that (our players) gave."

Although not having any kind of trouble with the Iowa batting order in the first, Massey allowed a leadoff single in the second, to which the Hawkeyes promptly put a runner into scoring position on a sac bunt by Arnold. Iowa used a mishandled grounder by MSU third baseman Tanelda McDonald to put runners at the corners with just one out, then loaded the bases after Massey delivered a four-pitch walk to IU's No. 7 hitter Emily Gerlick.

Massey would escape the jam with the next two batters, however, getting pinch hitter Mindy Heidgerken on a fielder's choice groundout, then inducing Elisha Huse to line out to Lindsay Nelson at second.

After three relatively quiet innings, Nelson woke the relatively partisan crowd back up with a one-out double down the leftfield line in the fourth to give the 'Dogs a runner in position and, after McDonald's flyout to leftfield put the second out on the board, Callye Williams produced an infield single to give State runners at the corners. With the next at-bat, Guess delivered a seeing-eye RBI single on a 1-1 offering from Arnold to score Nelson from second base and give the Maroons the first run of the game.

McMichael drew a four-pitch walk from Arnold to lead off the fifth and chase the sophomore from the circle, but Jaspers put down a bunt with Birocci's first offering that ended up moving McMichael to third on heads-up baserunning. Alas, Birocci would shut down the Mississippi State order through the remainder of the inning, striking out both Jennifer Waterman and Blaire Brown to strand the Maroon and White runner at third.

Iowa put together a rally in the top of the sixth, getting the leadoff hitter Hillary Johnson all the way to third via a leadoff single and a base hit from Stacy May, before knotting the score on Murray's perfectly laid bunt single. However, Massey qualmed the scoring threat again, this time striking out both Birocci and Arnold to exit the frame.

Johnson doubled down the rightfield line to lead off the eighth, then the Hawkeyes put the go-ahead run 60 feet away after a two-strike sac bunt by Amanda Hentges moments later. May's fielder's choice knock to the left side got Johnson in a successful MSU rundown in the third base line and, minutes later, Massey induced Murray to fly out to right and nix the scoring threat.

Waterman struck a one-out double to the centerfield wall in the bottom of the eigth, then gave way to the quicker McFarling to help keep the winning play alive. Brown's hard grounder with the next at-bat was fielded cleanly by Birocci, but the righthander threw too far in front of the first baseman Murray and careened off the first base dugout and into rightfield foul territory.

"I was just praying 'Please, let me put the bat on the ball,' and it worked out," Brown said. "When you put the ball on the ground, things can happen. I was just running like there was no tomorrow. I knew I hit it to her, and I was hoping that maybe something would happen. I heard the crowd cheer and I just got excited."

The fourth-seeded Bulldogs will continue play in the NCAA Region 5 Tournament on Friday at 3 p.m. when State takes on top-seeded Cal (47-11) inside Nebraska's Bowlin Stadium. A victory in that contest will put the Bulldogs into Saturday's semifinal action at noon while a loss will knock the 'Dogs into a loser's bracket contest against the winner of Thursday's Florida Atlantic/Lehigh game on Friday at 6 p.m.

GAME NOTES

With her leadoff single in the first inning, Iyhia McMichael reached base safely for the 39th consecutive game in 2004. McMichael has now reached safely in 62 of 63 games this season.

Including Iowa's two at-bats in the second inning, opponents are hitting just .290 (9-for-31) vs. MSU on the season with the bases loaded. In contrast, the Bulldogs are hitting 17-for-45 (.378) with the bases juiced in 2004.

Although hitting just .235 on the season, rookie Hayle Guess has produced a .281 clip (16-for-57) with two outs on the scoreboard. Her fourth-inning single produced her seventh two-out RBI in 2004.

McMichael's four-pitch walk in the fifth inning was her 51st free pass of the season, breaking the two-year old school record of 50 set by former MSU all-American Kellie Wilkerson during the 2002 campaign.

Kate Jaspers two sacrifice hits in the contests moved the senior into a tie for second place on Mississippi State's season hitting charts with former Bulldog Tracy Clark who also collected 21 sac hits during MSU's inaugural season in 1997. Jenny Hehnke currently holds MSU's season record in that category with 23 as a senior in 2000.

Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller was ejected for the first time in his two-year career at Mississippi State following an obstruction call in the sixth inning by first base umpire Ed Crane. It is only the fifth time in his 22-year coaching career that he has been ejected from a game.

Thursday's first round game produced just the third extra-inning game for the Bulldogs this season. State dropped both of its previous two extra frame contests, losing to both San Diego State (2/15) and Tennessee (3/21).

Freshman Keri McFarling's run in the eighth was her 13th run of the season, but marked the first gamewinning run of her career.

With the win, Mississippi State improved to 4-0 in NCAA Regional First Round Games and the Bulldogs are now 5-6 overall in their four NCAA Tournament appearances.

State's victory also was their first in three tries against Iowa. The Hawkeyes won neutral site contests with the Maroon and White in both the 1983 and 1998 seasons.

MISSISSIPPI STATE 2, IOWA 1 (8 Innings)
Iowa (38-23) 000 001 00 - 1 5 2
Mississippi State (39-24) 000 100 01 - 2 6 1
Arnold, Birocci (5) and Huse. Massey and Waterman. W - Massey (18-9). L - Birocci (21-13). Save - None. 2B - IU, Johnson. MSU, Nelson, Waterman. SH - IU, Hentges 2, Arnold. MSU, Jaspers 2.


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