STARKVILLE, MS (WLBT) -Behind the impressive Bulldog debut of junior outfielder Fa Leilua and a career performance in the circle from sophomore Emily Williams, No. 24 Mississippi State softball (2-0) open the 2019 campaign with a doubleheader sweep Friday inside Nusz Park.
State opened the 2019 Bulldog Kickoff Classic with an 8-2 victory over Middle Tennessee (1-1) sparked by a 4-RBI performance by Leilua. The Bulldogs capped the doubleheader with a 3-0 victory over Stephen F. Austin (1-1) as Williams blanked the Lady Jacks with help of a career-high 14 strikeouts.
Redshirt sophomore infielder Montana Davidson returned from injury and led the Bulldogs over Friday’s slate going 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs. Leilua recorded two hits Friday, including a two-run home run in her first plate appearance as a Bulldog, and drove home a total of four runs Friday.
MSU opened the season in impressive fashion against the Blue Raiders with early scoring. In the first at bat of her sophomore season, sophomore catcher Mia Davidson knocked a home run to left center for the 20th bomb of her career. After senior outfielder Kat Moore drew a walk, Leilua followed up with a two-run homer to put the Bulldogs up 3-0.
The Bulldogs capitalized off a MTSU fielding error led off the second inning, bringing home the run on a Leilua single to centerfield. State pushed its lead to 5-0 in the bottom of the third with three straight singles to lead off the inning, the scoring base knock coming of the bat of Mia Davidson.
Middle Tennessee cut into the Bulldog lead in the bottom of the fourth using a hit by pitch and two singles to manufacture a run off freshman pitcher Grace Fagan, but the Bulldogs rallied in the home half of the inning with a sacrifice fly from Leilua.
MSU’s final runs of the game came in the bottom of the fifth with clutch hitting from two senior Bulldogs. With runners at second and third, senior infielder Emily Heimberger doubles to right field to plate a run before senior infielder Bevia Robinson knocked a sacrifice fly to left field to push the Bulldog lead to 8-1.
Middle Tennessee would add a run in the top of the sixth with the help of the singles, but could not mount a comeback against the Bulldog pitching staff.
Fagan earned the victory in her MSU debut. The left-hander tossed four innings and allowed just one run off six hits and one walk. She recorded seven strikeouts in her debut. Junior pitcher Alyssa Loza also made her Bulldog debut in the circle, tossing two innings and allowing one run off four hits with two strikeouts.
Sophomore pitcher Candace Denis closed out game on, giving up one hit with two punch outs.
Scoring was at a premium in MSU’s second contest of the evening and the Bulldogs and Stephen F. Austin traded two scoreless innings before State broke through in the bottom of the third.
After a Heimberger walk led off the inning, Robinson tripled to left field to plate the first run of the game. She would come home on a sacrifice fly to centerfield off the bat of Mia Davidson. The Bulldogs would add its final run on the bottom of the fourth with an RBI double from Montana Davidson.
Williams kept the Lady Jacks off-balanced all evening and allowed just three hits. The right-hander gave up one walk and issued two free passes via hit by pitch, but struck out a career-high 14 batters to pick up the shutout victory.
The Bulldogs will return to the field on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. CT versus Valparaiso on the SEC Network+. MSU’s second contest of the day will be determined by seeding.
Quoting Vann Stuedeman
On Emily Williams’ 2019 debut…
“I thought she was spinning it really well. I thought what she also did really well that she had a good gut feeling on when they were swinging or taking. She was doing a really good job of figuring out their heartbeat and what their intentions were. Pitching is a huge chess match. When you see a sophomore be able to start figuring out that part is encouraging.”
With just 63 games under her belt, Mia Davidson has skyrocketed into MSU’s career home run record book with her 20th career dinger in the season opener. The mark moves her into a tie with Logan Foulks (2013-14) for eighth all-time in MSU history. Kellie Wilkerson (1999-02) holds the program record at 44.
2019 Bulldog Kickoff Classic Schedule/Results
Friday, Feb. 8
Game 1 – Stephen F. Austin def. Valparaiso, 6-2
Game 2 – Middle Tennessee def. Valparaiso, 4-1
Game 3 – No. 24 Mississippi State def. Middle Tennessee, 8-2
Game 4 – No. 24 Mississippi State def. Stephen F. Austin, 3-0
Saturday, Feb. 9
Game 5 – Middle Tennessee vs. Stephen F. Austin – 10 a.m CT Game 6 – No. 24 Mississippi State vs. Valparaiso– 12:30 p.m. CT (SECN+) Game 7 - 1 Seed vs. 4 Seed - 3 p.m. CT Game 8 - 2 Seed vs. 3 Seed - 5:30 p.m. CT
Sunday, Feb. 11
Game 9 - Consolation Game - 11 a.m. CT Game 10 - Championship Game - 1:30 p.m. CT