A Q&A With MSU Head Softball Coach Jay Miller

Mississippi State head softball coach Jay Miller, whose team is headed to the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, GA this weekend, talked about the early success his team has had, the impact the two freshmen pitchers have had, who is hot on offense and his thoughts about the latest recruiting class that he and his staff signed in November.

Has the early-season success surprised you, especially with two of your three starting pitchers being true freshmen?
"That was a big question mark going into the season. I thought that we had a pretty good team coming back, offensively and defensively, but, obviously, we lost three pitchers from last year's team and had two freshmen coming in. But you never know how they are going to adjust. I thought they were very talented, but until you see them play you don't really know what you are going to get. But I've been very pleased with them. MIsty Flesher (5-1, 1.17 ERA, 36 IP, 17 H, 4 BB, 29 SO, teams are hitting .139 against her) from Oklahoma and Elizabeth Woolven (1-0, 1.14) from here in Mississippi have both thrown very well. Misty has really dominated for us."

You've also got a junior pitcher that has done well this season - Kelsey Nurnberg (7-1, 1.63 ERA).
"She is a junior college transfer that came in last year in January. She got a season under her belt last year and did very well for us. She's thrown very well for us all spring. She throws right at 66 to 67 (miles per hour)."

Did you expect your two freshmen pitchers to pitch this well so early in their careers?
"We haven't gotten to SEC play yet, so we'll have to see how well they do there. But, so far, they have done exceptionally well, a lot better than I expected coming in because there is always an adjustment period coming from high school to the college level, especially Division-I ball and especially the SEC. You look at our conference and we have six teams in the top 20, including 3 of the top 5 - Alabama No. 1, Tennessee 4th and Florida 5. It's a tough conference to compete in for softball. We are doing what we can to prepare for the conference season. We have a big tournament in Columbus, Georgia (NFCA Leadoff Classic) where we will play teams like Michigan (ranked 12th in the nation), North Carolina State, UC Santa Barbara and UMass. It will be a good test for us."

You seem to always play in these type tournaments. How much do they help prepare you for SEC play?
"We try to play against the top teams in the country because they will give us a measuring stick as to where we are. When you get to SEC play that's what you are going to see - top teams in the nation. The other thing it does is help out RPI numbers, so when you are looking for consideration for selection to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year, it helps our strength of schedule and RPI to get up there to where we will be considered."

Getting back to the two freshmen pitchers, were they dominating type pitchers in high school?
"Oh yeah, both won state titles and both played very competitive summer ball. In fact, Elizabeth won the national championship playing with a team out of Maryland a couple of years ago. So, they both had good backgrounds playing in 18-U (travel) ball and were very dominating in high school. But that's pretty typical if you can throw at the Division-I level."

Who are their strengths? I know in the past you told me the 60 miles per hour range is equivalent to about 90 to 92 in baseball.
"Both throw in the low-60s - 62, 63 to 64, right in that range. And they both pretty much throw all the pitches. Misty throws a riseball, curveball, drop, screwball and also throws an outstanding changeup. That makes her very, very difficult to time. Elizabeth is a lefthander, the first that we have had. She has a good curveball, screwball, drop, riseball, changeup. And we look for both of them to get even better because they are both very mature and are very competitive kids."

What are the top offensive performers so far this season?
"Obviously, Chelsea Bramlett, our leadoff hitter - she's hitting over .500 on the year (.510, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 12 SB in 15 games). We look for her to be our spark. Nakita Boyce (.340, 2 RBI, 9 SB), Hayle Guess (.277, 4 HR, 13 HR, 6 SB) and Courtney Bures (.289, 2 HR, 8 RBI) have been our 2,3 and 4 hitters. A freshman, Ali Bainbridge (.326, 1 HR, 5 RBI), has done a great job playing both right field and second base for us. "

What are the strengths of this year's team?
"We probably have more team speed than we've ever had, so we can make more things happen on the bases and manufacture runs. We have good, but not great power. We have a variety of kids in the middle of our lineup who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. And I think, defensively, we are very solid. We are very strong up the middle - catcher, second base, shortstop and center field - which is what you want."

How does this year's pitching staff compare to other pitching staffs that you've had here?
"I think this is the strongest pitching staff that we've had since I've been here. And that goes a long way to determine how successful you will be."

You signed four players during the early signing period. Talk about each one of them.
"We signed a great class, probably the best class since I've been here.

"We signed a pitcher by the name of Lindsey Dunlap who is from just north of Birmingham, Alabama. She's another lefthander. She throws a great riseball. I look for her to be a dominant pitcher as a freshman next year.

"In addition to Lindsey we signed a girl named Courtney Moore, who is an outstanding outfielder from northern California.

"I feel we signed the best softball player in the state of Mississippi in a girl by the name of Brittany Gates, who is a little center fielder from Houston, Mississippi. She has tremendous speed and will probably anchor our outfield for us.

"We also signed probably one of the top players in the nation, a girl by the name of Ka'ilihiwa Smith a lefthanded hitter from Hawaii. She plays shortstop, center field and catches. She can do it all - hit for power, very good speed, a great arm, just a tremendous athlete. She is probably one of the best athletes that we have ever signed at Mississippi State."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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