'Dogs Travel to Southern Miss Wednesday

STARKVILLE, Miss. - The Mississippi State softball team (22-16) will make its first trip to Hattiesburg since 1986 as the Bulldogs begin a five-game road trip with a doubleheader against Southern Miss (18-18) Wednesday afternoon at the Southern Miss Softball Complex.

Although the series shows Mississippi State with a healthy 18-6 lead, the rivalry, as of late, has been anything but a yawner. Since 1999, when the two renewed their rivalry after Southern reestablished their varsity program, the two squads have played six times with the Golden Eagles taking four of those meetings. The teams split Starkville twinbills in both 2000 and 2001, with Southern taking a 1999 contest in Chattanooga, Tenn., and an earlier meeting this season at the MSU-hosted Bulldog Classic.

Since the rivalry was renewed, three of the six contests have been decided by two runs or less. The Lady Eagles have come out on the healthy end of the scoreboard in the six contests, however, outscoring State by an average 4 to 2 margin.

"Southern Miss is a very competitive and well coached team," said Mississippi State head coach Kathy Arendsen. "They are strong in the pitching circle and know how to win. It will take our best effort to beat them."

The Golden Eagles will enter its annual doubleheader against the Bulldogs on a roll, having won nine of its first 12 Conference USA games, including a three-game series sweep of UAB this past weekend in Hattiesburg. However, the Golden Eagles will bring a .232 team batting clip into the contest with no players hitting above the .300 plateau. Catcher Kenya Peters, who garnered all-tournament team honors at the Bulldog Classic in February, paces the team with a .287 (25-for-87) batting average, with Amanda Brown (.276) leading the club on 13 RBI.

By no means, however, will Arendsen's ball club take the Golden Eagles lightly. Southern Miss exploded for seven runs on 15 hits in February to upset State at its own tournament. The Golden Eagles recorded five extra-base hits in the contest against a lethargic Mississippi State pitching staff.

"Our match-up during the Bulldog Classic was definitely a one-sided game in favor of USM," Arendsen said. "They hit the ball really well and took advantage of our mistakes. We will be ready to play Wednesday."

Southern Miss will likely send Jessica Holaway (8-5, 2.03 ERA) to the circle in the opener of the twinbill to face State's Melissa Massey (4-8, 1.89), with game two featuring USM's Felicia Gonzales (6-5, 3.73) against State's Kasey Whitehead (12-8, 2.45). Admission to the Southern Miss Softball Complex is free of charge. Holaway nabbed the win in the February contest against the Bulldogs.

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