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The Mississippi State Bulldogs are looking at the Southeastern Conference Softball Tournament as a way of getting a second chance against certain opponents.
When it comes to their first round opponent in the fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, the Bulldogs believed they competed very well in Tuscaloosa, Ala., earlier this season despite being swept by scores of 6-2, 13-3 and 5-2.
Even though he recognizes that Alabama has a tough team, MSU softball coach Jay Miller said his squad had a chance to win two of the games it lost.
"We had some good opportunities to get a ballgame or two over there," Miller said. "We jumped out early and were able to put some runs on the board in all three games. They hit a couple of home runs at inappropriate times for us and won the ballgames. I thought we were in each game and had opportunities to win, but we just made bad pitches at the wrong time and it ended up costing us.
"We scored runs on all of their pitchers so we had some success generating some offense against them. We didn't get shut out and that's something we want to build on."
The Bulldogs, who stand 24-31 overall and 10-18 in the SEC, play the Crimson Tide today in Oxford. The first-round matchup will be televised by ESPN2 at 6:30 p.m.
MSU have made the SEC Tournament for first time since 2008 and Miller said the players have to be smart in how they handle the situation.
"The kids are pretty excited," Miller said. "It's just a matter of getting a little rest, recuperating, getting some practice time under our belts and get ready for the tournament."
Miller feels the Bulldogs have improved during the course of the season and that injuries early in the year may have prevented them getting a few more wins.
Due to those injuries, Miller has shuffled his lineup, both offensively and defensively, and everyone had to get comfortable with the transition.
"We basically had a whole new infield that weren't very comfortable with each other early," Miller said. "The more we've played the more comfortable they've been getting. We're probably playing our best right now and one of the things we're trying to do as the season progressed was get better.
"I think our pitching staff has gotten stronger and are more confident. I think the combination of those two things, especially defensively, has helped us tighten up a little bit and given us an opportunity to win some games."
One of the pitchers that has emerged to play a valuable role for MSU has been Stephanie Becker.
Even though her record does not show it (7-10), Miller likes what he's getting out of Becker.
Becker went the distance in a 3-1 loss to LSU in the final home game of the season and only gave up three runs on five hits with four walks and two strikeouts.
"She's given us the most production the last couple of weeks," Miller said. "I feel she has thrown very well right now. We tried to give her a little more rest this past weekend (at Georgia) and we'll continue to do that in terms of practice, but I've been real pleased with the way she has progressed and developed. She's bought into what our pitching coach Alan Colglazier has been working with her and I think it has shown with her production on the field. I've been real pleased with where she's at and we look for her to step up during the tournament."
Pitcher Kylie Vry had the best earned run average (4.11) and the most wins (eight) on the staff, while Ka'ili Smith has the best batting average (.354) offensively. Courtney Nesbit and Sam Lenahan have hit with the most power with eight home runs each.
Ackerman native Chelsea Raines has hit .272 this season with six home runs and 29 runs batted in.