Mississippi State’s softball season officially starts in less than 24 hours. The Bulldogs are coming off of a bounce back season that saw them return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it the previous year. Vann Stuedeman is entering into her 7th season in Starkville as the Bulldogs’ head coach and she is looking to build upon last season’s momentum to create success this year.
Speaking of last year, how did they do last season?
As was previously mentioned, Mississippi State bounced back from a disappointing 2016 campaign. The Bulldogs went 36-22 a season ago, going 10-14 in SEC play and making it to the Salt Lake City Regional where they dropped games to BYU and Fordham in the postseason. But, as a whole, it was a successful season. Stuedman led her team to winning four of their eight SEC series and challenged some of the upper echelon teams in the SEC a year ago.
2017 was also a season in which the Bulldogs won more than 30 games under Stuedeman’s lead, the fifth such time this feat was accomplished in the Stuedeman era. A large part of this accomplishment was based on Mississippi State’s success at home, where the Bulldogs went 24-7 a season ago.
Who is gone?
The Bulldogs lost quite a bit of production from last season. Arguably the most notable loss would be Alexis Silkwood, a historically dominant pitcher for the Bulldogs whose success placed her name at several spots within the record books in Starkville. But Silkwood is not the only pitcher to depart from Starkville. Regan Green, a rising junior who struck out 44 batters in 46.2 innings with a 1.80 ERA transferred to play the remainder of her career in Waco, Texas for the Baylor Bears.
Mississippi State also lost catcher Katie Anne Bailey, utility player Mackenzie Toler, infielder Caroline Seitz, and utility player Amanda Ivy to graduation. From those four, the Bulldogs lose 11 home runs and 69 runs batted in as well as reliable fielding at third base and behind the plate.
Who is returning?
Mississippi State’s roster features 6 seniors who have all contributed to this team’s success over their time with this program. The pitching duo of Cassady Knudsen and Holly Ward has improved each and every year that they’ve been in Starkville, and they’re likely to continue to improve this season. A year ago, the two combined for 12 complete games, 168 strikeouts, and a 16-13 win-loss record.
The Bulldogs also bring back their second leading hitter in Reggie Harrison, who hit 4 home runs, 15 doubles, 2 triples along with 22 RBIs, a .333 batting average and a .521 slugging percentage. Another notable returner is redshirt junior Bevia Robinson who stole an eye opening 30 bases a year ago.
It shouldn’t go unnoticed that Alexis Silkwood, Amanda Ivy, and Caroline Seitz are actually all coming back to Starkville as well. How? They’re joining Vann Stuedeman’s coaching staff as student assistant coaches.
What could this season hold?
It should be no surprise if Mississippi State wins over 35 games yet again and returns to the NCAA tournament. It’s difficult to thrive and succeed in the SEC, a conference that is known to produce national champions in this sport. And though Stuedeman’s record in SEC play has not been incredible at 53-95, it has been steady and occasionally improving. In this conference, steady and occasionally improving is certainly a good thing.
The Bulldogs added a ton of young talent through an incredible recruiting class as well as bringing in some talented transfers, but it’s yet to be seen exactly how those additions will play out for this season. MSU is in a tough spot to replace some incredibly talented contributors from last season and they’ll need players to step up and take control.
Under Vann Stuedeman’s lead, Mississippi State has built a solid foundation for a successful softball program. The facilities and the level of talent in Starkville have both improved and MSU has made it to the NCAA regionals in 5 of the 6 years that Stuedeman has coached. Hopefully this is the year that the team advances on to the next round and continues their momentum building rather than being stuck on a plateau.