Although returning just two starters off a 39-26 team that advanced to State's fourth NCAA Regional appearance in five seasons, the Bulldogs will welcome back all four of its pitchers from the 2004 season, as well as an additional gun from the circle in Louisville Slugger/NFCA High School first team all-American Ragan Blake. Seven other newcomers are likely to see time for the Maroon and White this weekend as well.
"With such a young ball club we have 15 players that are either freshmen or sophomores the more innings we can get under our belt and the more at-bats we get for our players, the more we learn about what we need to work on in the offseason," said MState head coach Jay Miller. "What we're trying to do with these games is get ready for our season that starts in February.
"I think that the Fall games are going to be critical for us for getting some of the jitters out from the freshmen and the other young players, as well as giving the coaching staff a better idea of where we are, both offensively and defensively."
Sophomore Hayle Guess, a starter in leftfield last season, will likely make the switch to the centerfield spot vacated by all-American Iyhia McMichael following the last campaign, while third baseman Tanelda McDonald will likely assume her same starting role at the hot corner. Sixth-year senior Jennifer Jessup, who obtained a medical redshirt in 2004, is slated to return to her starting shortstop duty after missing a majority of last season with a leg injury.
Righthanders Melissa Massey and Kelli Miller, who combined to all but handcuff their opponents down the stretch, return to the circle for the Bulldogs and are joined by sophomores Stephanie Comeaux and Sara Hickerson. The experience of the pitching staff is what has Jay Miller excited for the 2005 campaign.
"I am a lot more comfortable with our pitching staff than I have been the previous couple of years," Miller said. "Melissa Massey is a senior and she has been through the wars of the SEC, as well as the NCAA Regionals and that will be a big plus for us. Kelli Miller did a great job for us last season and her, along with Stephanie Comeaux and Sara Hickerson, both have a year under their belt and that will be beneficial to us. They know a little bit more about what to expect."
Henderson State returns two starting position players and one starting pitcher from its 2004 squad that went 32-11 and advanced to the semifinals of the Gulf South Conference Tournament. On the strength of a 19-game winning streak toward the end of the season, Henderson State churned out its best record in school history and shattered nearly every school record while finishing as the top offensive club in the GSC. HSU head coach and former MSU manager Richie Bruister was also named GSC Coach of the Year.
Coming off a 33-17 season that saw them win their first ever Southwestern Athletic Conference championship, as well as knock off a pair of opponents in NCAA Regional play, Mississippi Valley State returns five starters off a team that will likely be picked to successfully defend its conference title in 2005. Nicole Henderson, a 13-game winner from the circle in 2004, as well second team SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Balencia Young, both return for the Delta Devilettes.
Copiah-Lincoln CC returns five sophomores and three starters from last season's 28-8 squad that churned out a third place finish at MACJC State/NJCAA Region tournament and a No. 10 ranking in the final NJCAA Division II poll.
Following this weekend's action, State will conclude its Fall competition season next weekend, Oct. 2-3, when the Bulldogs host Delta State, Gulf Coast CC and West Alabama. MSU faces Delta State at 3 p.m. and Gulf Coast CC at 5 p.m. on October 2 and will close out the weekend on October 3 against Gulf Coast at 3 p.m. and West Alabama at 5.
WEEKEND SOFTBALL SCHEDULE
(All Games To Be Played At Mississippi State Softball Field)
Saturday, September 25
1 p.m. Henderson State vs. Mississippi Valley State
3 p.m. Henderson State vs. Mississippi State
5 p.m. Mississippi Valley State vs. Mississippi State
Sunday, September 26
1 p.m. Copiah-Lincoln CC vs. Mississippi Valley State
3 p.m. Mississippi Valley State vs. Mississippi State
5 p.m. Copiah-Lincoln CC vs. Mississippi State