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BOCA RATON, Fla. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – For the ninth time in as many games, dominant pitching and timely hitting led the Mississippi State softball team to two more wins. Friday at the FAU Strike Out Cancer Tournament, the Bulldogs defeated LIU-Brooklyn 5-1 and Maryland 3-1.

MSU is now 9-0 for just the third time in program history, joining the 2008 (11-0) and 2006 (16-0) clubs. The pair of victories also gave Vann Stuedeman her 75th as the head coach of Mississippi State.

(HailState.com) Alison Owen continues her torrid start on the circle.

Alison Owen continues her torrid start on the circle.

In the opener, run-producing singles from senior Sam Lenahan and freshman Caroline Seitz in the fourth inning guided MSU to the victory against LIU-Brooklyn. In the second contest, Lenahan and Seitz did more damage as Lenahan hit a solo home run in the top of the third while Seitz scored and doubled.

During game one in the circle, sophomore Jacey Punches (3-0) tossed five-plus innings and allowed one run on three hits without walking a batter. She struck out seven and has fanned seven or more in all three of her appearances this year. Freshman Mackenzie Toler recorded two outs, yielding two hits. Freshman Alexis Silkwood registered her first career save, getting the final four outs of the contest and fanning two. The Blackbirds’ Cassie Vondrak (0-2) threw six-plus frames and surrendered all five runs on 11 hits and seven strikeouts. She also hit two batters. Alyssa Lanktree-Dotson registered the remaining three outs for the Blackbirds.

Against Maryland, senior Alison Owen (4-0) went the distance in the victory, scattering four hits and surrendering her first two walks of the campaign. She fanned eight. Hannah Dewey (0-4) took the loss for the Terps, allowing three runs on three hits and a pair of walks in three innings pitched. Brenna Nation came in for the remaining four frames and gave up three hits and two walks while fanning a trio.

In the opener, neither starting pitcher allowed a base runner until there were two outs in the top of the third, when MSU sophomore Kayla Winkfield singled up the middle. She was caught stealing to end the frame.

The Blackbirds (1-4) recorded their first baserunner with a one-out single by Madison Zymkowitz in the bottom of the third. Punches answered with a pop out and groundout to strand Zymkowitz.

The Bulldogs broke through for a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth. Senior Heidi Shape registered a one-out single and moved to second on a wild pitch. Classmate Logan Foulks singled through the left side to put runners on the corners for Lenahan, who singled to right to plate Shape. Seitz followed with a single up the middle that drove in redshirt freshman Olivia Golden, who pinch ran for Foulks. A fielder’s choice resulted in runners on first and second with two outs for Julia Echols. Echols beat out an infield single, but Seitz rounded third base too far and was tagged out to close the inning.

Mississippi State added another run in the top of the fifth for a 3-0 advantage. Sophomore Loryn Nichols singled, moved to second on a groundout and went to third on a single from senior Jessica Offutt. With Shape at the plate, Offutt was called out for leaving first base early for the second out. Shape was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners and two down for Foulks, who reached on a fielder’s choice as Shape beat the throw to second base and Nichols came home. A strikeout ended the threat.

The Blackbirds had a chance to answer in the bottom of the fifth as Sara Shier led off with a double to right center, but a groundout, fly out and strikeout left her on second.

LIU-Brooklyn broke through in the bottom of the sixth with a run to make it a 3-1 MSU advantage. Madison Green led off with a double to right and Toler entered for Punches. After a pop out and groundout to second baseman Shape, Lauren Morizi singled just off the glove of Toler and into center to plate Green. Celinna Cosio singled up the middle and shortstop Winkfield saved a run by stopping the ball and not allowing it to reach center field. With runners on the corners and two outs, Silkwood entered and struck out Shier to end the threat.

MSU responded immediately in the top of the seventh and got two runs back for the 5-1 final. Offutt singled to lead off the frame and scored on a Shape triple to right center. After two strikeouts, Seitz came through again with a triple to left to drive in Shape. A strikeout closed the inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, Silkwood hit leadoff batter Kayla Gload, but a fielder’s choice, pop out and strikeout sealed the victory.

During game two, Mississippi State jumped to a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Lenahan provided the first score with a home run to lead off the frame. Seitz followed with a walk, moved to second on a passed ball and stole third base. After a pop out, Echols picked up the second free pass of the frame, stole second, moved to third on the wild pitch that brought home Seitz and scored on a one-out Nichols infield single.  Nichols was caught stealing and Winkfield lined out to end the inning.

Maryland (0-6) answered with a run in the bottom of the third to make it a 3-1 contest. Juli Strange led off with a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and came home on an Erin Pronobis ground ball to Winkfield at shortstop. Winkfield couldn’t field the ball cleanly and Pronobis was safe at first on the play, but Owen shut down the rally with a fielder’s choice and foul out.

MSU had a chance to respond in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with no outs, but could not score. Seitz led off with a double to left. Toler walked on four pitches and was replaced by pinch runner Katie Anne Bailey to put Bulldogs on first and second for Echols, who singled to left to load the bases. Consecutive fielder’s choices at the plate and a strikeout left the bases full of Bulldogs.

Both pitchers settled in and neither team had another scoring opportunity until the bottom of the sixth, when Sarah Calta led off with a single to left center. Calta tried to steal second, but was thrown out by Lenahan. Opponents are just two-for-four on steal attempts versus the Bulldogs this season. After a strikeout, Shannon Bustillos beat out a two-out infield single to keep the inning alive but Owen slammed the door with another whiff.

Owen surrendered a leadoff single to Corey Schwartz in the bottom of the seventh, but followed with a strikeout, foul out and lineout to Echols in right to complete the victory.

MSU wraps up the FAU Strike Out Cancer Tournament on Saturday with a 9 a.m. CT rematch against LIU-Brooklyn.

Post-Game Notes

–       Late innings are when Mississippi State has excelled the most on offense, outscoring teams 14-1 in the fourth inning, 15-0 in the fifth and 5-2 in the sixth.

–       The Bulldogs have averaged 6.4 runs a game so far this season. During the 2013 campaign, MSU pushed across 4.6 runs a contest.

–       Mississippi State tallied two runs with two outs, increasing its season total to 27 two-out runs (46.6 percent of team total).

–       MSU has struck out 32 times in the first nine games of the campaign (3.6 whiffs per contest). During 2013, the Bulldogs averaged 6.3 strikeouts a game.

–       The Bulldogs have used the same first and second batters for every game this season with seniors Jessica Offutt and Heidi Shape. The pair combined to go four-for-seven with three runs scored and one batted in against LIU-Brooklyn.

–       MSU’s pitching staff has allowed just 22 hits in nine games, good for an average of 2.7 hits a contest. Last season, the Bulldogs allowed opponents to average 5.1 hits a game.

–       Mississippi State’s two triples against LIU-Brooklyn marked the first time the Bulldogs had two or more three-base hits in a game since March 3, 2012, against Columbia.

–       MSU owns three triples already this season and had just five during all of 2013.

–       Maryland stole two bases in the third inning. Heading into the contest, Mississippi State had not yielded a stolen base this season.

–       Shape was hit by a pitch in the third inning of the contest against Maryland. The HBP lifted her career total to 18, tied for the fifth most in Mississippi State history.

–       Shape reached base in both games and is the only Bulldog to have been on successfully in every game this season.

–       Senior Sam Lenahan drove in two runs to give her sole possession of seventh on the Mississippi State career ledger with 113.

–       Freshman Caroline Seitz leads the Bulldogs with six extra-base hits. She’s slugging a team second-best .769 so far this season.

–       Redshirt freshman Olivia Golden has scored runs in consecutive contests in which she has appeared, against Florida Atlantic in the second game and versus Long Island. The two runs are the first of Golden’s career.

–       Sophomore Kayla Winkfield tallied two hits in the doubleheader, giving her seven for the season. In all of 2013, Winkfield tallied 10 hits.

–       Sophomore pitcher Jacey Punches recorded seven strikeouts against LIU-Brooklyn, bringing her season total to 23. In all of 2013, Punches tallied 23 whiffs.

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