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Stellar pitching highlights Bulldogs' remarkable season

163 days ago
Mississippi State Athletics

STARKVILLE - In her first year as head coach at Mississippi State, Samantha Ricketts led the Bulldogs to new heights. State was one of two teams in the nation to win 25 games, matching No. 1/1 UCLA.

MSU finished 25-3 in the shortened season, posting a .893 winning percentage that ranked fifth in the nation and is a school record. The Bulldogs checked in at No. 20 in the final edition of both the NFCA/USA Today Coaches' and USA Softball/ESPN polls, their highest final ranking ever.

Ricketts' squad had been a roll in the non-conference portion of its schedule. In the first RPI release of the year, MSU was also ranked No. 20. The Bulldogs were riding a 14-game winning streak when the season was canceled, and that streak was the second longest active run in the nation and fifth-best in school history.

"Our goal from day one was that we wanted to be a top-20 team," Ricketts said. "To finish up there was really exciting. We try to look at a lot of this as a positive. Instead of looking at what could have been and where we could have finished, we'll take that as a goal for us that we accomplished. It's the most-balanced we've been in a while. I thought that balanced approach is what allowed us to finish up there higher in the rankings and with a better record."

The 2020 Bulldogs won four of their five tournaments, including an undefeated run through the NFCA Leadoff Classic on opening weekend. State's trademark offense was on full display as the Bulldogs scored double-digit runs in four contests, including a season-high 20 against Mississippi Valley State. Mia Davidson and Fa Leilua both joined the 50-homer club, making MSU and Arizona the only programs with multiple active players that have hit 50 career home runs.

The pitching staff was perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. After sitting at the bottom of the SEC in most statistical categories last year, the Bulldogs had tremendous success in the circle. MSU finished fourth in the nation with a 1.36 ERA and second in the SEC with 245 strikeouts and a .158 opponent's batting average.

Annie Willis and Emily Williams were dominant this year, giving State a pair of aces to lean on. Both pitchers finished among the top 10 in the nation in ERA. Meanwhile, Williams held opponents to an SEC-best .099 batting average while allowing just 2.30 hits per seven innings, which led the nation.

Team Notes

  • State's four home runs vs. Alabama State (2/12) are tied for second in school history. The Dawgs' 30 total bases in that game are tied for third and their four sacrifice flies are a school record.
  • The Bulldogs also added to the record book in a 20-3 victory against Mississippi Valley State (3/7). The 17-run margin of victory is tied for second, and MSU's 19 RBIs are tied for third.
  • In a shortened season, MSU hitters set program records for team batting average (.326) and slugging percentage (.528) and their .399 on-base percentage was second.
  • In the circle State set records in strikeouts per seven innings (9.27), fewest hits allowed (102) and opponents' batting average (.158) with the third-best ERA on record (1.36).
  • The Bulldogs' also posted the fourth-highest fielding percentage (.967) in program history.
  • State was never shut out in 2020, and MSU's 28-game scoring streak ranks fourth in school history.
  • Samantha Ricketts became the fastest head coach in program history to reach 20 wins, doing so in 23 games. She is the only coach in program history to have her team nationally ranked at some point during her first year and led MSU to its highest final ranking in program history (No. 20).
  • Pinch hitters were 12-for-24 (.500) on the year, which led the SEC. Four of the Bulldogs' pinch hits went for extra bases, and MSU's pinch hitters collected 11 RBIs. MSU batters also reached base on error an SEC-leading 30 times.
  • After finishing last in the SEC with 130 walks in 2019, the Bulldogs' pitching staff finished fourth this year after walking just 58 batters.
  • The Bulldogs swept the SEC weekly awards on March 2 for the first time in program history. The awards also marked the first time State had multiple players honored in the same week since March 30, 2009. Chloe Malau'ulu, Annie Willis and Madisyn Kennedy were each recognized along with a trio of Auburn Tigers.

Individual Notes

  • Annie Willis threw the 22nd no-hitter in program history against Mississippi Valley State {3/6). Along the way she struck out a school-record 19 batters.
  • Willis was eighth in the nation with a 0.80 ERA and ranked seventh in the country in strikeout-walk ratio (9.75). She finished second in the country in fielding independent pitching (0.82), which estimates the runs allowed per game based only on outcomes the pitcher can control such as walks, strikeouts and home runs.
  • Willis broke school records in strikeouts per seven innings (10.4), opponent's batting average (.169), fewest walks (8) and fewest runs (10). Her 0.80 ERA is second in school history.
  • Emily Williams would have broken the same records, but she was 4.1 innings short of the minimum to qualify. Williams had top marks in ERA (0.46), strikeouts per seven (11.5), fewest hits (15), fewest runs (6) and opponents' batting average (0.99).
  • Williams did make the record book with five saves, which ranks sixth, and a 22.1 scoreless innings streak, which ranks eighth.
  • Williams allowed just 2.30 hits per seven innings, which led the NCAA. Her ERA was third nationally and her strikeouts per seven innings ranked seventh.
  • Fa Leilua's .791 slugging percentage ranks fourth in school history and she came just four total chances shy of qualifying for the fielding percentage leaderboard. Her .993 mark would have been a school record.
  • Leilua led MSU in total bases (66), hits (33) and RBIs (28). She was tied for third in the SEC in home runs (9) and was third in total bases. Her RBIs and 28 runs scored were both tied for seventh.
  • Mia Davidson became the 23rd player in SEC history to hit 50 career home runs in the win against UT Martin (3/2).
  • Davidson earned SEC Player of the Week honors with four hits at Southern Miss (3/11), which is tied for third in school history and one shy of matching the school record. Her 11 total bases (1B, 2B, 2 HR) that night were second in school history.
  • The Bulldog backstops kept runners in check. Davidson was tied for third in the SEC with five runners caught stealing. Meanwhile, Jackie McKenna led the league with three pickoffs, including two in one inning.
  • McKenna led MSU with a .435 batting average among qualifiers. She was a very successful pinch hitter, batting .500 off the bench.
  • Candace Denis ranked fourth in the SEC with 12 stolen bases on a dozen attempts. She ranks 40th among active players with 52 career stolen bags.
  • Paige Cook's .667 batting average led the SEC and her .625 on-base percentage was second.
  • Grace Fagan held opponents to a .167 average, which ranked 10th in the SEC and would have been second in school history, but she was 9.1 innings shy of the minimum to qualify. Her 14 walks would have also been second in MSU history.