By Maren Angus
Vann Stuedeman didn’t hold back after Mississippi State swept Ole Miss on Sunday. She paused, apologized for what was about to happen and then her eyes filled up with tears.
It wasn’t the first time the head coach had let her emotions out this season, but in that moment, the tears needed to fall. Of course she was happy about coming away with two wins and her team stepping up to earn back-to-back shutouts against a conference opponent for the first time since 2011. It was those who were missing that brought out the emotions.
“The girls are so tough,” Stuedeman said. “We have a lot of off the field things that are pressing with Alex Wilcox; Bevia Robinson left (Sunday) to go see her mother and we have another mom, Julie Knudsen, who’s battling a really tough fight with cancer. It just shows how tough these kids really are. The resilience and the grit and they just want to do their best all the time but with those three people in mind fueling them.”
As the Bulldogs prepared for their in-state rival, they thought they would have everyone there but upon arrival, Robinson, the starting third baseman, got a call that her mother was in the hospital and immediately had a member of the support staff drive her to Alabama. Wilcox hadn’t been feeling well all week and returned to the hospital on Thursday.
Starting pitcher Cassady Knudsen flew home to Iowa on Monday and spent all week with her mother who is also undergoing cancer treatment. She returned to Starkville on Thursday for practice and pitched a complete game, 11-strikeout shutout on Sunday.
“What these kids are doing is unbelievable,” Stuedeman said. “Their belief and fight and guts and toughness. We prayed together after the game for all three of those individuals. We are facing it together, we’re real about it and not trying to sugar coat anything and we are sticking together to get through these tough times.”
Rivalry aside, Ole Miss joined the Bulldog community with the “No One Fights Alone” campaign. The Rebels wore teal shirt during warm ups before each game with the name Wilcox on the back and released a video in support of her.
“It’s beyond softball right now,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith. “This is about life. It’s about what’s important.
This game is so miniscule. It’s so minor compared to what she (Wilcox) is fighting right now. The rivalry gets thrown out there. It’s about a small community of softball and I think that’s really important for people to understand.”
On the field, the Bulldogs know what they have going on is something special. They currently lead the SEC in doubles (72) and triples (15). They are fourth in batting average (.305), second in slugging (.494), fifth in runs scored (244), third in hits (358), fourth in home runs (40) and fourth in runs batted in (221).
The pitching staff has recorded 16 shutouts this season, the second-most in program history.
“This team is something special. Something awesome for sure,” said a giddy senior shortstop Reggie Harrison. “You can feel it. We are all behind each other every step of the way.”