Kelli Miller Had One Thing On Her Mind

After missing most of her junior year due to shoulder surgery, Mississippi State right-handed pitcher Kelli Miller had but one thing in mind this season. She simply wanted to come back for her senior year with a vengeance. State's softball ace pitcher had something to prove.

"The one thing about this year is I really wanted to come back strong," said Miller. "This is my senior year and I didn't want any excuses about the injuries from last year. And I am happy with the way things have worked out my last year at Mississippi State.

"And really, it's been about my teammates helping me out. We have a lot of seniors and that gives us great experience. And I would say experience has been a big part of our success this year."

And judging by her numbers, Miller has definitely reached her goal.

The Colorado Springs, Co., native leads the team into the Tucson Regional this weekend in Tucson, Ariz.

Miller is 17-10 with one save and a 1.79 earned run average and continues her climb of the school record charts in every pitching category.

And it's a far cry from last year's campaign when Miller only pitched in 10 games and had a 2-0 record.

Not only was last season tough for Miller as an individual, she also had to sit back helplessly and watch the Bulldogs miss out on a NCAA Regional for the first time in four seasons, largely in part to a late-season, 20-game losing streak.

"It was very frustrating, probably the most frustrated that I have been in my entire life," said Miller of last year's injury-plagued junior campaign. "I told Coach Miller that I was just not helping the team (with the shoulder injury) or contributing at all. It was tough to sit back and watch my teammates go through those losses.

"And unless you go through it, you don't understand all that is going on. It also makes you appreciate the good times that much more."

Which is what Miller and the Bulldogs are doing right now.

For the fifth time in six years, State advanced to postseason play, which has much to do with Miller's success in the circle.

For Miller, it will be her third NCAA Regional, having already competed in regionals held in Austin, Texas, and Lincoln, Neb.

"It is exciting," said Miller. "I always enjoy playing in regional and getting the chance to see different teams. We always look forward to regionals and this is what we work for."

Following an honor-filled prep career at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, Miller was looking for a change of scenery. And she found it in Starkville.

"I really just wanted something different," said Miller of her collegiate choice. "And going from Colorado to the South is very different and a big change. But really, it was just a perfect fit for me at State and I have enjoyed every minute of it."

Although her collegiate career is nearing the end, Miller will leave her name on numerous record charts as noted above.

Miller ranks third in school history with 44 career wins, 2nd with 80 starts, 3rd with 12 shutouts, and sixth all-time with 213 strikeouts and 25 complete games.

But personal goals were not something Miller thought too much about when she started her college softball career.

"I didn't really know at first how I would play," said Miller. "I did set a few goals and really wanted to earn my way into a starting pitcher role. I really didn't set any career or personal goals for myself.

"Of course, I do want to play in the College World Series but that is more of a team goal. But maybe one day I will look back (at the school records) and appreciate it later in life."

Miller has also excelled in a leadership role. As one of three senior hurlers for the Bulldogs, Miller has passed her knowledge down to future Bulldog pitchers.

"I think we have all tried to help the younger pitchers, especially with Kelsey (Nurnberg)," said Miller. "Kelsey is going to be the team's top pitcher next year. We try to lead by example but we also tell her about certain situations and things to help her this year and in the future. Plus, we all try to help each other out with motivation and encouragement."

Miller's teammates also benefit from her leadership on the mound. Their confidence is obvious on the diamond when Miller takes the ball.

"It makes a world of difference with Kelli on the mound," said Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller. "The team plays well behind her and know that she is not going to get rattled over anything. They play with a lot of confidence with her on the mound and they feel good about her pitching abilities."

Last weekend, Miller also completed her duties in the class room, at least from a student point-of-view.

With a teacher's degree in hand, Miller plans to become a teacher and will soon be sending in resumes and looking for a teaching job once her playing career is concluded.

"I'll try to find a teaching job somewhere," said Miller. "I will go anywhere to teach except maybe California. I am open to anything and anywhere."

But first things first, Miller still plans to play a lot more softball.

The Bulldogs open postseason play on Friday at 6 p.m. against Pacific. State is 34-25 overall and the second seed in the four-team, double-elimination field.

Host Arizona presents a daunting task as the top seed in the Tucson Regional and the top overall seed in the entire NCAA softball postseason.

But Miler cautions against looking ahead to Arizona.

"First of all we have to take it one game at a time," said Miller. "You can't look past Pacific and starting thinking about Arizona until you actually play them. If you look ahead then we might not even play Arizona. But I think we can do well if we play to our abilities. We held our own in the SEC and that competition is as good as it gets. We have faced a lot of tough competition this season and that should help us."

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

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