Mississippi State's Cook burns UL-Monroe
MONROE, La. - Mississippi State claimed a 7-1 victory on the road at ULM on Wednesday night.
Paige Cook led the way offensively with four RBIs, including a three-run homer.
It was a full team effort from the Bulldogs (23-10, 3-2 SEC) who used 19 players in the game. Kiarra Sells, who entered the game as a pinch runner, collected her first career RBI with a sacrifice fly.
"Midweeks are always tough," head coach Samantha Ricketts said. "Sometimes it's good to step out of conference, but it can also be hard to take their focus off of conference as well. Right now you're in the middle of it - really just two weeks in for us - but it's trying to make sure that they know that this game is just as important as an SEC game.
"We can't take anybody lightly at any point in the season. I think that's where midweeks can almost be a challenge at some points if we don't stay focused. I thought they did a good job of that, and for us staying focused means having fun and being loose. When they try to take games to seriously, we play a little bit too tight. I thought they played their game with energy and stayed loose."
MSU opened the scoring in the second inning in a rally started by Nadia Barbary's one-out double.
After ULM answered with a two-out RBI double in the fourth, State added a pair of runs in the fifth after four walks in the frame.
In the sixth, Cook hit her three-run homer, brining home Barbary and Gabby Coffey, who had been hit by a pitch. Faapito picked up the win, after starting and going five innings. Aspen Wesley and Grace Fagan combined for two scoreless innings to close the game.
On using 19 players in the game... "I try to use every player to their strengths, and that might change every game. If one of them is going to be a defensive specialist, you're going in to run. Also with a midweek, trying to be careful. We have some who are banged up. We have a pretty veteran roster, so some of them I'm just trying to keep off their feet as much as I can right now too. And really just trying to give more opportunities.
"After the weekend at Georgia, it's let's try to get these younger ones a little bit more experience and more at-bats. We know they're a big part of our future moving forward, and it's time - on my part - to start using them a little bit more often. Not just when we're up by a lot, but even in close games and tight situations. That was the first one with Kiarra Sells. The plan was always to re-enter Madisyn Kennedy for defense, but Kiarra with the bases-loaded had full confidence. She's such a good athlete and is going to be so good for us, so trying to make her feel the pressure. To Madi's credit, she was standing next to me and said, 'I have full confidence. Let's send her up there.'"
On playing clean defense... "It has been a focus for us and something we challenged the infield with. More often than not, the errors are mental. They're plays we can make, it's just a lack of communication or focus on it. Getting them to trust that they are good athletes who are here for a reason and can make these plays. If we boot a ground ball, so what? We've got to bounce back and make the next play. They looked confident. It was nice to get Nadia Barbary and Kat Wallace out there. They're both very steady gloves for us, and Macy Graf has done a great job all year long at third base."
On Matalasi Faapito's start... "I really liked the start we got from Matalasi Faapito in the circle. She looked in control. She was attacking. She got herself out of some jams. She had one missed pitch, but she bounced right back, which is what we're looking for. She's come a long way in terms of her poise and her confidence. That's been huge for us to use her more and more, and it allows me to get her in the lineup too, which is something we need to do more often."
- Nadia Barbary doubled and scored twice. She finished 2-for-3, which is her fourth multi-hit game of the year.
- Paige Cook hit a three-run homer and also drove in a run with a single up the middle.
- Saleyna Daniel scored twice after reaching on a fielder's choice and a walk.
- Macy Graf collected an infield base hit, driving in a run.
- MSU now has 45 infield hits this year, and Graf has four. She also walked twice and scored.
- Kiarra Sells hit a sacrifice fly after entering the game as a pinch runner.
Top 3 -- With one out, Nadia Barbary doubled to center field. Saleyna Daniel then reached on a fielder's choice while Barbary successfully escaped a rundown and returned to second. Brylie St. Clair walked to load the bases. Macy Graf scored Barbary with an infield single to third base. Paige Cook then singled up the middle, which scored Daniel. Mississippi State 2, ULM 0.
Bottom 4 -- Ashlan Ard led off with a single up the middle. Kassidy Giddens pinch ran at first and was bunted over to second. Following a ground out, Jacelyn Buck doubled down the third-base line to score Giddens from second. Mississippi State 2, ULM 1.
Top 5 -- Daniel walked. Following a strikeout, Graf and Cook walked to load the bases. Aquana Brownlee walked to score Daniel and advance the runners. Sells, who had entered an inning prior as a pinch runner, hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Graf. Mississippi State 4, ULM 1.
Top 6 -- Barbary singled to left field and was bunted to second. Gabby Coffey pinch hit and was hit by a pitch. St. Clair re-entered to run at first before Cook hit a three-run homer to center field. Mississippi State 7, ULM 1.
Mississippi State will host No. 10 Arkansas on March 31-April 2 at Nusz Park. It is Alumni Weekend in Starkville, and first pitches have been set for 5 p.m., 3 p.m. and 1 p.m. ET on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Saturday is also State's annual Breast Cancer Awareness game presented by OCH Regional Medical Center. Sunday is Kids Day at the ballpark and kids can run the bases postgame.