Looking for Postseason Play, not Home Runs

After every game this season, Mississippi State junior shortstop Courtney Bures receives a call from her father and the same question. Bures' father simply asks if she hit a home run that particular game. But Bures did the talking in person on Sunday in Athens, Ga., slapping her first home run of the season.

After drilling 18 round trippers two years ago as a freshman and five more last year, Bures didn't collect her first until the final game of the Georgia series.

More importantly, Bures' bomb helped give State a 12-5 win in Sunday's rubber game of the series.

"I definitely got some people off my back, mainly my Dad," said Bures of her first dinger of the season. "But the home run couldn't have come at a better time for the team, playing a big series at Georgia. I am not focused on hitting home runs but I was glad to get that one over with.

"My Dad asks me after every game if I hit a home run that game. But he didn't have to ask after my first one this season because he was there and saw it. And that made it special."

Although many have wondered what happened to Bures' power, don't include her in that crowd. Bures still has the same approach at the plate and is still very successful.

Bures ranks second on the team with a .360 batting average and the two-time All-SEC selection ranks first with 50 RBI and 13 doubles.

Bures is still solid defensively, keeping the Bulldogs air-tight up the middle.

She just doesn't have the home run numbers that she collected as a true freshman.

"I always try not to focus on power numbers," said Bures, who hit .346 last year with five home runs and 37 RBIs. "Those numbers really don't say how well you are hitting. I just want to have good at-bats. Power numbers don't mean you are hitting well in a game. I just try to help the team with good at-bats and help us win."

Two years ago, Bures exploded on the collegiate campaign following an honor-filled high school career at Stonewall Jackson High School in Haymarket. Va.

Bures earned All-American honors and all-South region honors after hitting .388 with a team-best 54 RBIs and a MSU freshmen record 18 home runs.

"It was pretty awesome," said Bures of her breakout season as a rookie. "I didn't expect to have a year like that. My mindset as a freshman was to just get better and reach that point. But I didn't expect it to happen so early. Hopefully I can get back to that before I leave Mississippi State."

With Bures' standout rookie campaign, the Bulldogs reached an NCAA Regional for the third straight year.

However, it was a different story last year.

Mississippi State opened the season on fire, rolling to a school-best 16-game winning streak to start the season. Then at the mid-point of the schedule, the Bulldogs were 30-8 and eying a sure spot in the SEC Tournament and more than likely, the school's fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid.

But then the bottom fell out and State encountered another school-record streak, but it wasn't the one they wanted.

State encountered a school-record 20-game losing streak, knocking the Bulldogs out of the SEC Tournament and obviously an NCAA Regional berth.

State did snap the streak, concluding the season with a three-game sweep at Kentucky. But the damage had already been done.

"It was awful last year," said Bures of the late-season, school-record 20-game losing streak. "We didn't even win a game in April and we were not used to that, especially after experiencing an NCAA regional the year before.

"Nobody wants to go out like that again and it serves as motivation. We want to make the NCAA regionals again and see what we can do from there."

As a junior, Bures has stepped into a leadership role as well this season. She admits that she's not much on talking loud and shouting instructions to her teammates. There are seven Mississippi State seniors that can do all that.

But what Bures does on the field speaks volumes, whether it's at the plate or making a play at shortstop.

"It's a different role than I've faced in my first two seasons," said Bures. "Leadership is an awesome thing that comes with being older and having the success my first two seasons. I have never been a vocal person, leading more by example.

"But we have a lot of seniors on this team and they have handled their leadership role nicely. That allows us to do our job and focus on doing my job and helping the team the best way I can.

"You have to focus on that and not try to do something you can not do well or something that is not natural to you."

Bures and the Bulldogs have achieved one goal - making the Southeastern Conference Tournament. And at 32-23 overall and 12-13 in the SEC, the Bulldogs have positioned themselves for a possible berth in an NCAA Regional.

"We have to focus on each series and each game, like we did at Georgia," said Bures. "Our first order of business (was) to get to the SEC Tournament, and it will be single-elimination so we need to get a good seed. If we can finish up strong against Arkansas, I feel that will set us up good for a shot at postseason."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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