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Gainesville, Florida

Mississippi State earns first conference win of season

259 days ago
Mississippi State Athletics
Photo: Mississippi State Athletics

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Annie Willis was locked in, collecting a season-high nine strikeouts on her way to a complete game shutout at No. 3 Florida on Sunday. Willis led Mississippi State to its first win over a top-five team since 2019 as the Bulldogs claimed a 1-0 victory in Gainesville.

The win also marked MSU's (16-9, 1-1 SEC) first win over a ranked Florida team since 2019 when the Gators were No. 7 in the NFCA poll. The Bulldogs went on to win the series that year for first series win in Gainesville since 2004.

Willis faced 27 hitters, striking out nine and walking just two. She is the first Bulldog pitcher to shut out a top-five team since Alexis Silkwood blanked No. 4 Tennessee on April 18, 2014.

"Just a complete - I don't even know the words for it - but such a great, complete-game performance for Annie Willis," head coach Samantha Ricketts said. "Up and down, I thought she did a great job attacking. They've got All-Americans in that lineup, great hitters, speed, power, everything in between, and for her to be able to navigate the lefties at the top and the power through the center, I thought she did a great job of staying calm. She stayed confident, stuck to her game plan and wasn't fazed, even after a couple walks."

The lone run in the game came in the second inning. Paige Cook singled with one out before stealing second base. She advanced to third on a fly out from Madisyn Kennedy and came around to score on Jackie McKenna's two-out single.

"Jackie doesn't get a lot of credit down in the bottom of the lineup. I don't think her numbers reflect how great of a hitter she is," Ricketts added. "She's had some bad luck finding a lot of hard hit balls right at people, so it was good to see her get one through and pick up the big RBI for us."

Florida (22-2, 1-1 SEC) threatened in the second with a leadoff double. The Gators eventually had runners on first and third with one out, but Willis got a strikeout and a foul pop up to get out of the jam. Chloe Malau'ulu also made a run-saving diving catch in the gap to end the third.

In the fourth, Florida had a chance to score on a triple to left field, but the runner coming home from first tripped while rounding the bases and was tagged out at the plate.

Quotables

Samantha Ricketts on Chloe Malau'ulu's diving catch... "Chloe's was definitely the web gem of the game. But really for us, it's been about making the routine plays. I thought we did that very well behind Annie. That's what it takes to beat a team like this. It's playing well in all three phases, and with a shutout performance from Annie, we've got to make all the plays behind her and find a way to scratch across a run."

Samantha Ricketts on how important Paige Cook's stolen base was... "It was a lot of quality team at-bats. Knowing that they're a pitching staff that's stingy with the home runs, and if we had to play small ball, we were going to do it. Paige stealing a base was huge because without that we don't score on Jackie's two-out single. That was followed by Madi [Kennedy] to move her into scoring position, and Jackie with the two-out single."

Annie Willis on her approach today... "The approach was really just to attack the zone, get ahead on batters and use the count to our advantage. Learning from yesterday's zone and Kenley [Hawk] working through that, today the mindset was attack the zone, get ahead and let the defense work behind us."

Annie Willis on Chloe Malau'ulu's catch... "I love my defense. We've been working so hard this preseason and in the off season to make those plays, to always give 100 percent no matter what. Today the defense did that. Pitching in front of that, knowing that that defense is behind you, is the best feeling in the world."

Quick Hitters

Top-Five Win - MSU claimed its first victory over an NFCA top-five team since March 31, 2019, in an extra-innings victory at No. 4 Alabama ... State's last win over a ranked Gators squad came in 2019 when Florida was No. 7 and the Bulldogs won their second series ever in Gainesville.

Shutting Out The Gators - The win is State's fifth shutout victory over the Gators and the first since a 3-0 victory in Gainesville on April 24, 2005.

Paige Cook - Extended her career-long hitting streak to seven games ... stole a base and scored the game's lone run.

Chloe Malau'ulu - Made a diving catch with two outs in left field to save a run in the third.

Jackie McKenna - Drove in a run with a single in the second.

Annie Willis - Struck out a season-high nine batters in her 10th career shutout ... first Bulldog shutout of a top-five team since April 18, 2014, at No. 4 Tennessee when Alexis Silkwood struck out 11 in a complete game.

Scoring Recap

Top 2

With one out, Paige Cook singled through the right side. She then stole second and took third on a fly out to right field. Jackie McKenna drove her in with a two-out single through the left side. Mississippi State 1, Florida 0

On Deck

The series finale will air on SEC Network on Monday night. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. CT.