BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – Birmingham native Jessica Cooley celebrated her homecoming by christening the brand-new Samford Softball Stadium with a pair of home runs, leading the Mississippi State softball team (28-14) to an eventual 13-1 victory in five innings Tuesday night at Samford (11-28) in the first-ever game at the new ballpark.
The 13 runs scored by MSU in battle of the Bulldogs marked the highest-scoring game under Head Coach Vann Stuedeman and the most by the Maroon and White since scoring 13 at Arkansas on March 28, 2010.
“Coach (Alan) Reach and Coach (Beth) Mullins have been working a lot on timing and doing a lot of video work,” Stuedeman said. “We were able to get timely hits and extend the inning, which was important.”
In front of her friends and family, Cooley went 3-for-3 with two home runs and six RBIs, becoming the fifth player in school history and the first since 2007 to drive in half a dozen teammates in a single game. Tuesday marked the fifth multi-home run game for Cooley in her career, tying four-time All-American Kellie Wilkerson (1999-2002) for the school record. The 24 career home runs by the senior now rank fourth all-time in Starkville.
“It is always fun coming back to Birmingham and seeing my friends and family,” Cooley said. “We wanted to come out fast, stay strong and go pitch-by-pitch, and I feel like we did a good job with that.”
The starting trio of leadoff batter Jessica Offutt, Cooley and three-hole hitter Sam Lenahan combined to go 7-for-8 with 10 RBIs and five runs scored. Offutt went 2-for-3 with a career-high three runs and three stolen bases to go along with a season-high tying two RBIs, while Lenahan drove in a pair of runs on a pair of hits.
On top of Offutt’s trio of stolen bases, freshman Kayla Winkfield tallied a career-high two stolen bags thanks in part to a career-best three walks. Lenahan, junior Logan Foulks and freshman Loryn Nichols also registered steals, giving MSU eight on the night, tied for second most in school history (8 vs. Belmont, Feb. 13, 2002).
State right-hander Alison Owen picked up her team-leading 15th win of the season inside the circle, giving up one run on one hit in three innings of work. The two-time SEC Pitcher of the Week struck out five and walked three in her 31st appearance of her junior campaign.
Offutt opened up the new digs with a first-pitch ball at 6:01 p.m. CT, and one pitch later cemented her place in history with the first hit in the stadium’s history, an infield single to third base. Cooley stepped into the box next and proceeded to send an 0-1 offering sailing over the scoreboard in right field for an early 2-0 lead in favor of the visiting Bulldogs.
Samford cut the two-run lead in half in the bottom of the first with an RBI single by cleanup hitter Shelby Scott, but the Maroon and White regained the momentum soon after thanks to a bases-loaded double off the top of the 20-feet high fence in left by Lenahan, allowing Winkfield and Offutt to tap the dish.
State put the game out of reach with a six-run third inning. Redshirt sophomore Julia Echols padded the lead with her first home run as a MSU Bulldog, a two-run shot in the top of the third. With no outs, Offutt added a two-RBI single and Cooley crushed another two-run jack to increase MSU’s lead to nine. Cooley pushed the final two runs of the game across the plate in the top of the fourth with a two-run worm burner up the middle.
Starkville’s Team will now head 84 miles east of Mississippi’s College Town for a three-game set at defending national champion Alabama.