A Q&A With MSU Head Softball Coach Jay Miller

Mississippi State head softball coach Jay Miller talked about the successful season that his 25th ranked ballclub, 41-22 record (the second most wins in MSU history) has this year and his expectations for next season. State was a second seed at the NCAA Tempe Regional. That was the 5th time in Jay Miller's six years that the Bulldogs advanced to a regional.

Did this season meet or exceed your expectations?
"I think a little of both. I thought we had a pretty good ballclub coming into the season. And it turned out that we really played very well. We had 41 wins, which is our first 40-win season since I've been here. We finished 7th in the SEC but we were actually a half game out of 4th and a game out of 3rd. Going into that last weekend, we could have finished anywhere from 3rd to 7th. The way everything fell the wrong teams won and lost and we ended up 7th. But we still had a very strong SEC season this year. I thought, for the first time since I have been here, that we weren't really concerned if we were going to make the NCAA regional. We were more concerned about our seed this year.

"I really think, going into that last weekend at Arkansas, if we would have swept Arkansas we would have gotten a No. 1 seed. And that would have really made a big difference for our ballclub. We were 18th in the RPI going into that weekend. And as it ends up, we lost two of three. Not only did that drop us down, but took away an opportunity for a No. 1 seed. We wound up a No. 2 seed. And it didn't help matters that we were sent to Arizona State. Two years in a row we were sent to Arizona. Last year we were sent to Arizona and this year to Arizona State. So, it made for a little tougher draw.

"But I feel very good about our ballclub this year. We set a new record for batting average - hitting .311 as a team. The old record was .305, so we shattered that. We also set a new record for fielding. This was the best fielding team that we have ever had. It had a .970 fielding percentage. The old record was .965. Again, we blew that out of the water. Our pitching was a question mark going in because we lost our three pitchers from the year before. I thought our two freshmen - Misty Flesher and Elizabeth Woolven - did an outstanding job. Misty won 20 games as a freshman. (Junior pitcher) Kelsey Nurnberg won 17 games, which was over double her win total last year. And all three of them are back next year. So, I felt really good about where we were on the mound.

"Misty is having surgery on her shoulder next week. She tore a labrum and she pitched all year with it. She had to take pain pills everyday to pitch. If we can get her back so that she can throw pain-free, she will really develop quite a bit next year."

When should she be back?
"She won't be able to throw this fall. I'm hoping she will be back come springtime. I don't know how much we are going to get out of her early in the year. But she certainly should be 100% by the time conference games roll around."

Talk about your seniors.
"We had a great senior class. They gave us great leadership on and off the field. Nobody makes plays defensively like (shortstop) Courtney Bures does. That's what we are going to miss the most next year. She was also a great hitter, an All-American and All-SEC. Hayle Guess, our centerfielder, made plays out there that nobody makes defensively. She was also our leading home run hitter and hit about .330. Those were our two big losses both offensively and defensively.

"Nakita Boyce also did a great job in left field and getting on base as our leadoff hitter.

"Those three are going to be tough to replace.

"We also have two other seniors - Lindsay Hunley and Megan Bateman. Even though they didn't start, they did a great job providing leadership for the young kids."

You signed some pretty good freshmen that should help immediately.
"Yeah, we did. They should help us big-time. On the mound, we have Lindsey Dunlap coming in. She just finished winning the state high school title in the state of Alabama last weekend. She's a left-handed pitcher who should give us another solid thrower on the mound. I think she has a chance to come in and start, as do all of our freshmen."

Potentially, how good can Lindsey Dunlap be?
"She's the best one that we have ever recruited here. She throws a great rise ball and she has good command of her pitches. She's a dominate type pitcher."

Who else recruited her?
"Alabama, Auburn, Georgia ... most of the SEC schools."

Who were some teams you beat out for the other freshmen?
"The kid from Hawaii was looking at Cal, Fresno, us, Tennessee. The girl from California was looking at Cal, San Diego State, Stanford and us. The girl from Mississippi was looking at us, and Tennessee recruited her pretty heavily."

Who do you expect to replace your senior starters?
"We will probably take Jessie Bailey and move her from third to short, or Jessie Spain who was a freshman this past year who played both third and short. One of them will play third and one will play short. I'm just not sure where each will play.

"We have three freshmen outfielders coming in - Ka'ilihiwa Smith, a tremendous athlete from Hawaii, Courtney Moore who also played shortstop in high school and is a tremendous athlete as well, and Brittany Gates, a little outfielder from Houston, Mississippi, a very fast lefthanded slapper who covers a lot of ground in the outfield. Between the three of them, they will be able to replace those two outfield spots very well."

Is Ka'ilihiwa the type player who can step in and contribute immediately?
"I think all of them can, but we really look for Ka'lihiwa to step in and contribute right away."

What does she bring to the table?
"She's a great athlete who runs well, has a great arm, hits the ball with power and for average. She's a five-tool type player."

Who does she compare to as far as players who have played at Mississippi State?
"It's hard to say, but she could be a Kellie Wilkerson type kid. She doesn't pitch, but she brings that kind of talent."

You got a lot of starters coming back, so your expectations should be pretty high going into next season.
"I think so, but obviously losing three starters will take a pretty big chunk of the offense. You lose a lot with them, but that is why you recruit. We are looking to keep our level of play up since we had our best season this year. And hopefully we can build on that. I feel we will be a lot stronger on the mound and that is an area we want to boost up a little bit. And get to the point where we aren't just going to regionals, but winning regionals and super regionals and getting to the World Series."

If you get a No. 1 seed next year you could potentially host a regional couldn't you?
"We have an opportunity to host."

Is your facility up to the standards necessary to host?
"We don't quite have the facility we need to. But I don't think our facility would stop us from hosting. As far as the SEC is concerned, we are at the bottom of the barrel facility-wise. There have been some great facilities built over the last few years and more are under construction right now. Tennessee has just built a 13 million dollar softball stadium and LSU is spending 11 million on a stadium that is being built right now and will open up next spring. Arkansas is spending 11 million and it will also open up next spring. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Auburn already have great stadiums. We are fighting an uphill battle right now because for us to stay competitive in the SEC we have to have that drawing card. We are trying to recruit kids that Alabama, Tennessee and the other schools are also recruiting."

What do you need facility-wise?
"We need a stadium with a pressbox and skybox area. Also, some chair back seats, concession stands, and locker rooms."

Would you have to have 11 million dollars?
"It depends on what you want, but we could do something for 5 or 6 million very well."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the 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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