Oxford, Miss. - With the softball diamond as her canvas, Mississippi State pitcher Stephanie Becker painted a Magnolia State masterpiece Saturday in a series-clinching 2-1 triumph against in-state rival Ole Miss (16-23, 3-13 SEC) at the Ole Miss Softball Complex. The junior left-hander tossed a complete-game one-hitter and retired the last 20 batters in order, becoming the first MSU pitcher in over a decade to one-hit the Rebels.
"Today was a great victory for us," Becker said. "Ka'ili Smith did an awesome job behind the plate and our defense caught everything that came its way."
The Bulldogs bettered their record to 24-19 in Vann Stuedeman's first year as head coach (7-14 SEC), matching last year's win total with three weeks remaining in the season. With the series victory, the Maroon and White also improved its postseason chances of making both the SEC and NCAA Tournament.
"Hats off to Stephanie Becker and (Ole Miss pitcher) Kendall Bruning," Stuedeman said. "Both of them were stellar out there today. Today's performance was huge for Stephanie, our program, our fans and our state."
For the second game in as many days, sophomore second baseman Heidi Shape drove in the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth inning. Sophomore third baseman Sam Lenahan (1-for-2) and junior left fielder Jessica Cooley (1-for-1) also had solid days for the MSU offense, while senior catcher Ka'ili Smith registered a run scored.
The home team jumped on top quickly with a run in the bottom of the first, which started when Becker plunked Ole Miss leadoff hitter RT Cantillo on the first pitch. Following a full-count walk to Brittany Broome, Becker let a pitch get away from her as both Cantillo and Broome advanced a base. With a pair in scoring position, three-hole hitter Londen Ladner pinched a 2-2 offering through the left side of the infield. Cantillo scored easily on the RBI single, but Cooley gunned out Broome at the dish to keep the deficit at one.
The two teams played scoreless softball in the second and the third innings before the Bulldogs plated two runs on two hits and an error in the top of the fourth. Smith started it out by earning her team-leading 30th walk of 2012 on a full count. The Flyin' Hawaiian then stole her 10th base of the year to take second, putting a runner in scoring position for Lenahan. The third baseman connected on a seeing-eye single to left field, as Smith ran to third. Broome misfielded the ball in left, allowing Smith to tie the game at one as Lenahan trotted to second. Lenahan moved to third on a double to left-center field by Cooley and scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Shape.
Starkville's Team will go for the sweep Sunday at 1 p.m. in a contest that will be broadcast live on FOX Sports South. Dave Baker will serve as the play-by-play announcer and National Pro Fastpitch League Commissioner Cheri Kempf will handle the color analyst duties for MSU's first televised game of the Stuedeman era. Free audio streaming of the game will be available through HailStateTV at www.hailstate.com/hstvlive. For more information regarding MSU softball, follow the team on Twitter at @MStateSB and like the team at Facebook.com/MStateSB.