Tensions were high and Texas A&M’s postseason run in jeopardy as the first round of the SEC Tournament kicked off on Wednesday at Davis Diamond.
No. 12 Mississippi State took the reigns early against the No. 13 Aggies with a 3-0 lead by the third inning.
“It was really fun to get out there and play here and play in this tournament,” Mississippi State’s head coach Vann Stuedeman said. “The SEC does an incredible job with this tournament. Our girls were fired up to be here. We have a great senior class. They played well; it was a good game by both sides. We just put one more run up than they did.”
Senior utility player Emily Heimberger was the first to reach base in both the fourth and first inning. Heimberger was also the first to return home in the same two innings. Mia Davidson earned the last run for the Bulldogs in the third inning. The sophomore returned to home plate after senior outfielder Kat Moore singled to right center, moving Davidson from her third base post.
The two teams went scoreless in the fourth before A&M reignited its offense with one run in both the fifth and sixth inning to put the game at 3-2.
Junior outfielder Kelbi Fortenberry rounded the bases for the lone run of the fifth after a wild pitch and a single to left field by junior pitcher Payton McBride.
A couple more wild pitches would be the cause of the second Aggie run. In the sixth senior infielder and sophomore infielder Ashlynn Walls advanced to second and third due to another wild pitch by Mississippi State’s starting pitcher Emily Williams. Walls would soon return home after a single to right field by freshman catcher Morgan Smith.
Despite what seemed to be a rally from the A&M offense, the inning would close out with two stranded on base and only one recorded hit.
This was all the Bulldogs needed going into the seventh and final inning. With a 1-2-3 inning from Williams, Mississippi State secured the win and their spot in the tournament.
The Bulldogs were led on the mound by Williams who ended the game with five hits on two runs and four strikeouts in her seven innings pitched.
Freshman infielder Baylee Klingler said Williams was comfortable in her pitches and it put more pressure on the A&M offense.
“I think she did a good job at doing what she does well — executing with her plan. As far as our offense goes I feel like we were squaring up the ball, had unlucky hits right to people, but the thing about our offense is that not one person has all the weight their shoulders,” Klingler said.
For Williams, her success came from her sticking to her technique and believing in her defense.
“Just spinning it a lot, keeping it on the corners. Let them put it in play for defense to work,” Williams said.
With the loss, the Aggies move to a 28-25 overall record and lose their spot in the tournament. The Bulldogs move to 33-20 on the season and will face No. 5 Ole Miss on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Evans said that although only a few of the players on A&M’s roster have experience in postseason play, she’s confident in the team going forward.
“We’re young but we’re in the right places, we’re doing the right things,” Evans said.
The 2019 NCAA Division I Softball Championship bracket will be announced on Sunday.This will be the deciding factor on whether or not A&M continues its postseason run with a trip to the NCAA Regionals.
Sartain said the team will continue to practice as if they are already in the regionals until the official selection.
“I feel like we have a lot of good wins this year and the SEC is brutal and I think we have plenty of big wins to put us in there,” Sartain said. “I think we deserve it..”
Evans hopes the selection committee focuses on both the level of difficulty of the Aggies’ schedule and their victories throughout the season.
“For us to be in this situation is highly unusual and we have highly unusual circumstances that have gotten us to this point. But I think it’s really important for our team to be able to play in postseason,” Evans said. “Going into our season we had the number one ranked toughest schedule in the entire country going into the SEC conference play. It’s been a grind.”