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Ole Miss, Mississippi State softball win NCAA Tournament openers

OXFORD — Brittany Finney was electric, the bats were on fire, and Chattanooga could not overcome a slow start in Ole Miss’ 12-0 five-inning win to close out day one of the NCAA Softball Tournament’s Oxford Regional on Friday.

Heading into this weekend the Rebels (38-17), who are the No. 11 national seed in the tournament, had dropped five of their last eight games, including an 8-0 loss to Kentucky in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week. Friday’s game was about letting the rest of the country know they were not going anywhere.

“We put the pedal down and kept going and didn’t stop,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith said. “We know the last week and a half to two weeks of the season was very uncharacteristic of the way we played the entire year. I think a lot of people were doubting us a little bit and so I think that was kind of a statement game for us.”

The Rebels (38-17) advanced to Saturday’s winners’ bracket game at noon against Louisiana-Lafayette, which defeated Southeastern Missouri 3-2 in Friday’s early game.

Southeastern Missouri and Chattanooga will play an elimination game Saturday at 2:30 p.m., with the survivor playing the Ole Miss-Louisiana loser in a second elimination game at 5.

Finney had one of her best outings of the season, working three innings and giving up only three hits while striking out five batters. She needed only 41 pitches to get nine outs.

Molly Jacobsen will take the circle against Louisiana, but Finney working only three low-stress innings on Friday gives Smith some insurance the rest of the weekend.

“It’s going to be huge,” Smith said. “You never know how deep we’re going to have to go in this thing, especially with the weather a little bit. It got a little cooler at night but it’s still humid and hot so the less energy that she needs to exert out there is better for us down the stretch.”

A shaky start by the Mocs (37-16) was taken advantage of by the Rebel offense, which scored six runs in the home half of the first inning and followed it up with five runs in the second.

Most of the damage was done by the bottom half of the Rebels’ order, which went 8-of-11 at the plate, scored seven runs and drove in nine.

Right fielder Kaylee Horton went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Third baseman Amanda Roth was 2-for-3 and also had three RBIs, and left fielder Tate Whitley was 2-for-3 with two runs scored.

Jessica Puk only had one hit, but drove in three runs with a two-run single and an RBI groundout.

“I think that’s part of where we’ve struggled a little bit, especially later on in the year,” Smith said of the bottom half of his order. “We’d get the top of the lineup on base and we were struggling at the bottom.”

Mississippi State 5, Seattle 3

Mississippi State (34-21) fought off a seventh-inning rally by Seattle (39-16) to advance to the winners’ bracket of the Seattle Regional.

Senior center fielder Kat Moore hit a three-run double in the third inning to give the Bulldogs the lead for good. They added two unearned runs in the fifth to go up 5-1, and then held on in the seventh.

Carley Nance hit a two-run home run for Seattle to cut it to 5-3 with no outs. Mississippi State pitcher Emily Williams retired the last three batters in order, however, including the last two by strikeout.

Williams (14-8) allowed four hits and three walks in a complete-game victory. She finished with 11 strikeouts.

It was Mississippi State’s first victory in an NCAA Tournament regional opener since 2007.

The Bulldogs will play regional host Washington in a winners’ bracket game Saturday at 5 p.m. The winner of that game advances to Sunday’s championship round, while the loser must play an elimination game against either Seattle or Fordham at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Washington beat Fordham 2-0 in the other first-round game on Friday.