STARKVILLE, Miss. - With a steady first half of the 2002 season now under its belt, the Mississippi State softball team is preparing for a productive second half of the season that could propel the 'Dogs into the NCAA Regionals for the second time in three seasons."> STARKVILLE, Miss. - With a steady first half of the 2002 season now under its belt, the Mississippi State softball team is preparing for a productive second half of the season that could propel the 'Dogs into the NCAA Regionals for the second time in three seasons.">

'Dogs heating up for second half run

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01filepicture/softball.jpg" align="left" width="205" height="166"> STARKVILLE, Miss. - With a steady first half of the 2002 season now under its belt, the Mississippi State softball team is preparing for a productive second half of the season that could propel the 'Dogs into the NCAA Regionals for the second time in three seasons.

"We are very pleased and excited with the growth and development of our team," said Mississippi State head coach Kathy Arendsen. "We have had to play through the most injuries ever in our program, yet it seems that every day a different player takes advantage of her opportunity and steps up with a critical play."

With 50 percent of its games this season coming against top 25 schools, State possesses a 9-9 mark against such foes, including a 4-3 clip against top 10 opponents. The Bulldogs knocked off then top-ranked Arizona in the third game of the campaign and have since followed with upset victories over eighth-ranked Arizona State (now 6th), tenth-ranked Michigan (now 13th) and fourth-ranked LSU (now 5th). The Maroon and White is 5-6 against teams ranked 11-25.

State's success this season can be traced to the relentless attitude of its batting order. On nine occasions this season, State has rallied to win after being down early at some point in the contest, most notably in a regionally televised game at Georgia on Sunday.

Staring in the face of a 2-0 deficit after four, MSU rallied for four runs with two outs showing to take a 4-3 decision from the 21st ranked Red and Black - its second upset of the SEC East leaders in as many days. Earlier in the week, State posted three runs with two outs in the sixth to knot the game up in an eventual extra-inning victory over LSU in Baton Rouge - a win which snapped a 17-game skid to the Tigers. The Bulldogs now have 60 two-out RBIs this season in 36 contests and are hitting .304 with runners in scoring position.

"Without a doubt this team has a never-say-die attitude," Arendsen said. "Lately, it seems that we almost feel at home with an early deficit. Hopefully, we will retain the relentless attitude and at the same time start scoring earlier in the game."

Although trailing the pace of the record-breaking 2000 squad - a squad that produced State's first berth into the postseason - by a mere six games, the 2002 version has its advantage of schedule strength. Through 36 games in 2000, State possessed a 27-9 record with nine games against top 25 teams. Although posting an impressive victory against then-ninth ranked Stanford, the 2000 squad had just a 4-5 record against top 25 schools.

With nagging injuries now, somewhat, beginning to heal, Mississippi State is readying to erase cynics' early season doubts of its abilities. After reeling off a 4-5 clip in three consecutive conference series against all but one of the four ranked teams in the SEC, the Maroon and White has left little doubt of its focus on postseason play.

"It's imperative that we become healthy as every player will be needed to take on the challenges of the rest of the season," Arendsen said. "We will need to focus on better execution, both on offense and defense, and get more timely hitting to accomplish our goals of an SEC championship and NCAA postseason play."

Mississippi State will return to action this weekend when the Bulldogs host SEC East foe Tennessee (30-13-1, 4-5) in a three-game series at the Mississippi State Softball Field. The two teams will open up their series in a 6 p.m. twilight contest on Friday and close out the set in a Saturday afternoon doubleheader at 1 p.m. Admission to all 2002 Mississippi State softball home games is free of charge.


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