Starkville Daily News - - ATH­LET­ICS -

Jan­ice Ni­chol­son, who he praised for her 37 years in ed­u­ca­tion.

Af­ter the awards came emo­tions and laughs as the se­niors gave their closing re­marks as Bull­dogs. Coach Schaefer fol­lowed with a 40-minute speech re­flect­ing on the ca­reers of his group of four even rem­i­nisc­ing on the taco salad he was en­joy­ing for lunch the day Vi­vians com­mit­ted or the night he found out that Johnson was in­ter­ested in MSU af­ter an­nounc­ing her trans­fer from Ok­la­homa State.

Most of all, he chal­lenged the play­ers sit­ting in the crowd that will be re­turn­ing next sea­son and asked for them to fol­low the lead of the four that are head­ing out the door.

“We re­placed four se­niors from last year and said, ‘what are we go­ing to do?'" Schaefer said. “Well, we re­placed 111 wins with 126 and are ju­niors al­ready have 99 wins of their own.

“I can­not remember a group of play­ers im­prov­ing this late in their ca­reers like these four se­niors. This is an im­por­tant sum­mer for all of the re­turn­ers. If you haven't no­ticed, it's on­ward and up­ward around here. The time is now.”

MSU will re­turn five se­niors for next year with Dan­berry, Holmes, McCowan, Jonika Garvin and Zion Camp­bell pre­par­ing for their fi­nal year in ma­roon and white. They add a top 15 sign­ing class that in­cludes Mis­sis­sippi Ga­torade Player of the Year Daphane White from St. Martin and they also bring in Con­necti­cut trans­fer An­dra Es­pinoza-Hunter, who will sit out next sea­son.

OX­FORD – A back-and­forth game ended with a three­run, fifth-in­ning rally by Ole Miss (22-18, 5-13) as the Rebels held on for a 7-6 vic­tory over No. 24 Mis­sis­sippi State (32-12, 6-9 SEC) to take the series fi­nale at the Ole Miss Soft­ball Com­plex on Mon­day night.

Ju­nior Emily He­im­berger and fresh­man Carter Spexarth both turned in multi-hit con­tests as Spexarth drove in a game-high three RBI off of her first ca­reer home run.

The Bull­dogs tossed four pitch­ers in the out­ing with se­nior Holly Ward tak­ing the loss. The righthander tossed the fi­nal two in­nings, al­low­ing one run off one hit and a walk. Ward and sopho­more Can­dace De­nis struck out team­lead­ing three Rebels in the game.

Mis­sis­sippi State moved two run­ners into scor­ing po­si­tion in the bot­tom of the first with a one-out walk is­sued to fresh­man Mia David­son, sin­gle to shal­low left by ju­nior Sarai Niu and a passed ball, but the Bull­dogs could not push a run across.

Lead­ing off the home half of the in­ning with a triple, the Rebels plated their first runs of the series by driv­ing in a run off a fielder's choice and a sin­gle up the mid­dle.

Af­ter go­ing down in or­der in the sec­ond, He­im­berger knocked a one-out sin­gle to right field be­fore David­son tied the game with one swing in the top of the third with her SEC-lead­ing 15th home run of the sea­son.

The Rebels an­swered in the bot­tom of the third, lead­ing off with a sin­gle. An er­rant throw on the pick-off at­tempt moved the Rebel run­ner to third. Niu wran­gled a foul out, stum­bling into the vis­i­tor dugout on the play for the first out, but the run was al­lowed to score on the dead ball call to give Ole Miss a 3-2 lead.

Mis­sis­sippi State an­swered in the top of the fourth with a rally of its own. Se­nior Mor­gan Bell led off the fourth with a dou­ble to left field and was lifted for sopho­more pinch run­ner Mad­die Dorsett. Af­ter mov­ing to third on a fly out, Dorsett came home on an RBI sin­gle to left field to lock the game at 3-3.

Af­ter a sin­gle through the left side by se­nior Ca­lyn Adams, Spexarth slugged her first home run of her ca­reer with a pinch­hit bomb to right cen­ter to give MSU a 6-3 lead af­ter four. The Rebels got one run back in the bot­tom of the fourth, plat­ing a run on a wild pitch.

Ole Miss loaded in the bases in the bot­tom of fifth with no outs, Ward recorded two quick outs with a ground out at sec­ond to make the force out at home and a strike­out, but a bases-loaded walk and a two-RBI sin­gle put the Rebels back on top 7-6.

Mis­sis­sippi State loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the sixth with back-to-back sin­gles by Spexarth and He­im­berger and an in­ten­tional walk to David­son, but a fielder's choice at short­stop re­tire the side to keep the Bull­dogs off the board.

Mis­sis­sippi State's men's track and field pro­gram re­tained its No. 9 rank­ing for the third straight week on Mon­day.

The Bull­dogs have now been ranked in­side the top 10 for three con­sec­u­tive weeks for the fourth time since 2008. It is the first time since 2015 that MSU has been a top 10 team for three weeks in a row.

“We're here to stay,” State head coach Steve Dud­ley said. “I've been say­ing that we're built bet­ter for the out­door sea­son. Now, these kids are get­ting re­spect for how they've per­formed.”

MSU is com­ing off a week­end at the Ten­nessee Re­lays that saw it win four in­di­vid­ual events and both the men's and women's 4x400 meter re­lays.

The Bull­dogs will have a week­end off be­fore head­ing to the Penn Re­lays on April 26-28 in Philadel­phia, Pa.

(Pho­tos by Danny P. Smith, SDN)

Mis­sis­sippi State head women's bas­ket­ball coach Vic Schaefer, left in top photo, and his staff lis­ten as the 2018 se­niors class of Blair Schaefer, bot­tom pho­tos from left, Roshonda Johnson, Vic­to­ria Vi­vians and Mor­gan Wil­liam give their se­nior re­marks at Mon­day night's MSU Women's Awards Ban­quet at the Mill Con­fer­ence Cen­ter.

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