This past weekend marked another year of "The Snowman: Alex Wilcox Memorial" softball tournament, and the top-25-ranked Bulldogs came into the tournament as determined as ever.
On the first day of action, the Bulldogs split a pair of games between Stephen F. Austin State University and Southern Illinois University. Against Stephen F. Austin, it would be a short burst of offense that would seal the deal for Mississippi State University, with graduate student outfielder Christian Quinn starting the offense off with an RBI double off the leg of the Jacks' pitcher.
In the second inning SFA would rally back in the fourth to tie, but fellow graduate student and team veteran Fa Leilua would send a solo shot over left field in the sixth inning to get the Dawgs back rolling.
Sophomore utility player Paige Cook and the aforementioned Quinn would follow up Leilua's effort with a pair of RBI singles to push the score to 4-1, MSU, before the end of the inning. The Jacks would attempt a rally in the seventh, giving senior pitcher Annie Willis the win from the rubber, per MSU stats.
In the second game, an early Southern Illinois rally would be the Achilles heel of the Bulldogs, as they would score in each of the first three innings and put SIU up 4-0. In the fifth frame, however, the Bulldogs would rally back behind three deep balls from junior outfielder Chloe Malau'ulu, senior infielder Montana Davidson and junior catcher Jackie McKenna.
After the MSU salvo, the score sat at 5-4, MSU's lead. Some clutch two-out play by SIU in the top of the seventh, however, would see the score tied, and extra innings would be in order after MSU could not find an answer in the bottom of the frame.
International tie breaker rules would place a runner on second, and SIU would capitalize in the eighth off of a throwing error and bring in an RBI that would prove to be the game winner.
The next day of games, however, would reveal a much more determined Bulldog softball team than the first. Sophomore pitcher Aspen Wesley would receive her first start of the year for the Bulldogs and would not disappoint in the first game of the day against Missouri State University, totaling eight strikeouts in five innings pitched.
Senior outfielder Carter Spexarth would start the scoring off in the third frame for MSU with an RBI double, and junior outfielder Anna Kate Seagers would follow her with a base clearing, two RBI double, setting the score at 3-0 MSU before the end of the inning.
Wesley would face some adversity throughout the next two frames, however, loading the bases in the fourth and putting another runner in scoring position in the fifth. The starter would work her way out of these jams in convincing fashion, however, with an infield fly and a strikeout to end each inning respectively.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Bulldogs would tack on two more runs behind a pair of RBI singles from sophomore utility player Phoebe Florian and the new look short stop and senior infielder and center Mia Davidson and push the score to 5-0, Bulldogs' lead.
Senior pitcher Emily Williams would toe the rubber for MSU in the sixth and carry the shutout through the final inning, making the final of the first game of the second day 5-0 and ensuring the Bulldog softball team was back in full swing.
That "full swing" status was on full display in the next game, as Davidson would send a solo moonshot over the centerfield wall of the two run variety, breaking out of her recent hitting slump in dramatic fashion. The deep ball would put MSU up 2-0 before a Cook groundout would end the inning.
Mississippi Valley State University would come back in the second to score their only run of the game, but the Bulldogs would go on to have an explosive third frame, scoring eight unanswered runs to force the run rule victory after the fourth inning.
After the game, sophomore Aspen Wesley gave her perspective on the preparation for her first start of the season.
"I just had to tell myself that I had been working up to this point …," Wesley shared. "I just have to believe in myself and know that my teammates had my back."
When asked about her team's intensity early in the games, Head Coach Samantha Ricketts would also say this .
"I thought the dugout was awesome," Ricketts said. "They were locked in. They were focused. They were loud and having fun, and that's when we play our best."
The Bulldogs will look to carry this momentum into the upcoming road trip to Texas, where they play a slew of games before coming back home to play Ball State University on March 5 under the Nusz Park lights yet again.