Next on the agenda was the Belmont Bruins at home. The first game MSU clobbered them, 11-0, and then, in the second game, MSU pull out a squeaker, 2-0.
Now, after their first six games, the team is 6-0 and about to host their own Bulldog Classic starting this Friday (Feb. 15).
Prior to the upcoming classic, I had a chance to talk with MSU softball coach Kathy Arendsen about how her team has done so far this season and the reasons why.
Are you surprised this team has performed so well this season?
"I'm not surprised. They have worked very hard and this team together. It has a great foundation and they play well together. They like each other.
"Are we surprised we beat Arizona? No, we expected that we would, but you don't know that you will do it. And you don't know that you are going 4-0 (at the Fiesta Bowl Tournament) and tie for a championship with UCLA, who is probably the number one team in the country.
"My fear today (against Belmont) was that we might let up a little bit. I thought we came out very aggressive and scored a lot of runs. Our pitchers got a chance to get out there and pitch. Krystal Tillman and Melissa Massey got their first innings of the year today. We didn't have to push Kasey Whitehead too hard.
"The second game we didn't make good adjustments to the pitcher, partially due to the pitching that we saw in the first game. In the second game we lost a little bit of our intensity and we can't do that if we want to play well all year."
Talk about this weekend's Bulldog Classic.
"This is our fifth annual Bulldog Classic and Southern Miss is annually nationally ranked and a great rival for us. Colorado State has been to numerous regionals. Southern Illinois beat us at our tournament. That is the reason we didn't win our own tournament last season. I expect some great games and it looks like the weather is going to cooperate. It should be a great weekend for sports here at State."
With two games back to back on Friday and Saturday, how will you rotate your pitchers?
"I think our primary starters will be Jennifer Nelson and Kasey Whitehead with Kellie Wilkerson back as the best reliever in the country. She was throwing the ball about 67 mph (that is equivalent to a tad above 100 mph in baseball). She is not quite sharp yet, but she is the best there is coming in relief. We are going to bring freshman Melissa Massey along a little slow, give her a few innings when we can. Krystal Tillman, who is an outfielder, started pitching a little in practice and we were really impressed. (Assistant Coach) Bo Reid has worked several weeks with her. We gave her one inning and she did really well."
Last year, your Bulldog team should have gotten selected to play in a regional, but weren't. Do you think there is a little bit of fire in this team this year to make sure there is no doubt that they belong in a regional this year?
"Absolutely, we have talked often about not wanting to leave it in someone else's hands. We want to make a decisive statement with our play so that when that selection time comes, it is not a matter of are you going but where are you going. Our players have made that commitment.
"Both wins versus the nationally ranked teams are wins that help you in that pursuit. They help solidify your chances of being a regional team. We didn't get that big, big win last season. We had a lot of good wins, a few sweeps in the SEC, but we didn't beat the LSU or Alabama or some of those other big-name teams that we played. Now, we have beaten the best. Arizona is a great ballclub, but we beat them. We were the better ballclub the entire seven innings."
I looked at your starting lineup today and you had one freshman and four sophomores out of your starting nine. What kind of boost does beating an Arizona do for a team like this one?
"What it means is if you play together as a team, you can do anything. They are learning that. Right now, they are very focused on the team, they are not worried about who has the great stats. They are just trying to make sure a Bulldog does well. They are pulling for one another. They are a really special group of kids. We hope they keep this up."
This team was batting .312 coming into this game. Did you expect them to hit so well?
"I thought we would be a good hitting team. We needed a couple of young players to improve and they did. I knew we would run well. This might be the best-hitting team in the SEC. We stole a lot of bases today (against Belmont. they stole 13 of 14 against Belmont). We stole quite a bit out in Arizona (9 of 9). We have some speed. We have a number of players with speed. We can be aggressive on the bases.
"Our one question is our pitching depth. With Brandy Bailey going down with surgery in December and Jennifer Purcell leaving over the summer, we didn't have a lot of innings returning. However, Kasey has stepped up and Jennifer has shown that she will step up."
Talk a little about your starting pitcher, Kasey Whitehead. She was just chosed SEC pitcher of the week.
"Kasey has stepped up. In the past, she has been kind of a relief pitcher and a spot starter. She struggled a little because she tends to overthrow at times. She is a typical kid who, when she gets in a tough situation, wants to just blow it by them. This year, she trusts her defense and her pitches. She is prepared. She has became a great pitcher. Her knuckleball is incredible. Arizona could see it coming, but they couldn't make the adjustments to hit it. It was frustrating to them no end. For us, we were getting little ground balls and popups. She was in total command on the mound. We feed off of that."
Thanks for your time, coach. And good luck this weekend.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.