'Dogs Toppled by USC in SEC Softball Tournament

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The second-seeded South Carolina softball team (42-16) put up five spots in each of the second and fourth innings, then held back a handful of surges by seventh-seeded Mississippi State (34-28), to defeat the Bulldogs, 11-5, in the opening round of 2002 SEC Tournament play Thursday afternoon at Jim Frost Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Krystal Tillman scored three runs on a 3-for-4 day at the plate, with Jennifer Nelson turning in her third perfect hitting performance of the season, walking once on a 2-for-2 day. Kellie Wilkerson (2-for-4) and Iyhia McMichael (1-for-4) each plated two RBIs. USC catcher Adrianna Baggetta matched an SEC Tournament record by scoring three runs on a 3-for-4, three RBI hitting tally that included her sixth home run of the season.

Mississippi State starter Kasey Whitehead (20-13) made two appearances in the contest, surrendering six earned runs on six hits and a pair of walks to take the loss for the Bulldogs. USC reliever Aleca Johnson (8-1) worked five strong innings, allowing three runs on five MSU hits after coming on in the second after starter Stacey Johnson took a grounder to the face.

The loss dropped State's record to 2-3 in SEC Tournament openers and 6-11 to the Gamecocks. South Carolina evened its record to 2-2 against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament.

Mississippi State put its first scoring threat together in the top of the second, getting its first two runners of the inning aboard via walks. Stacey Johnson's first pitch to Brooke Best found its way to the backstop, but Danielle Quinones fired down to third and caught Kate Jaspers attempting to swipe third. With one out and Jennifer Waterman standing firmly on second, Tanelda McDonald delivered a base hit to shallow rightfield to put runners at the corners, but Johnson got Jennifer Jessup on a grounder back to the circle to exit the inning.

South Carolina put its first two batters of the inning aboard via singles, then loaded the bases two batters following when Whitehea's pitch found the left leg of Samantha Jennings. A pass ball moments later brought Baggetta across the plate with the 1-0 lead, but was followed by a two-run single by Quinones that extended Carolina's advantage to 3-0 and chased Whitehead from the circle. Jodi Fittro's RBI groundout off the reliever Massey pushed the lead to 4-0 with the next at-bat, but South Carolina continued the barrage, getting an RBI single one batter later to head into the third with a 5-0 lead.

Via a walk and a pair of singles, the Maroon and White loaded the bases with its first three batters of the third, setting the table for McMichael's two-run single that got MSU back into the game. With runners on first and second and still no outs showing, State reloaded the bases on a free pass to Jaspers, but Aleca Johnson retired the next three Bulldogs in order to escape the major scoring threat.

State used a leadoff double by Krystal Tillman and an infield single by Jennifer Nelson to put runners at the corners after its first two at-bats of the fourth to set the table again, this time for Wilkerson's seeing-eye single that found its way through the right side, allowing Tillman to trot home from third. South Carolina juiced the bases with its first three at-bats in the bottom of the frame, chasing Massey from the circle in the process, then got a two-run single off State's closer, Wilkerson, to forge a 7-3 advantage, then took a 9-3 lead on Baggetta's double to the centerfield wall.

Meghan Cornett's RBI single to shallow centerfield one batter later chased Wilkerson in favor of the starter Whitehead. Mississippi State plated a pair of runs in the top of the sixth courtesy of a pair of hits from Tillman and Wilkerson, along with a three-base throwing error by Aleca Johnson that cut the deficit to five runs, 10-5, but, South Carolina got a leadoff homer from Baggetta in the bottom of the inning to put the game away.

Mississippi State will return to action tomorrow when the Bulldogs continue SEC Tournament play in a loser's bracke contest against sixth-seeded Arkansas (38-25-1). The Lady Razorbacks lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to third-seeded Alabama earlier in the day. First pitch is set for 12 p.m. EDT at Chattanooga's Jim Frost Stadium. Every game of the 2002 SEC Tournament can be followed via a live stats link at the Southeastern Conference's official website, http://www.SECSports.com.

South Carolina 11, Mississippi State 5
#7 Mississippi State 002 102 0 - 5 9 1
#2 South Carolina 050 501 x - 11 13 1
Whitehead (1,4), Massey (2), Wilkerson (4) and Waterman (1,4), Brown (3); S. Johnson, A. Johnson (3) and Quinones. W - A. Johnson (8-1). L - Whitehead (20-13). Save - None. 2B - MSU, Tillman; USC, Baggetta. HR - USC, Baggetta.

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