Alexis Silkwood of East Alton is never far from Starkville, Miss., these days.
It has become the new residence for the Marquette Catholic High School graduate, a junior-to-be at Mississippi State University. The 5-foot-4 lefty pitcher with the booming fast ball and buzzing breaking ball is making her mark for the softball Bulldogs.
She’s their Silky Smoothie.
“It’s home,” said Silkwood, 20. “I enjoy it here because it’s a small-town college with big-time athletics. People know who you are when you go into a store and the friendships I’ve made have changed me not only as a softball player, but a person.”
Softball has helped elevate Mississippi State on the college sports map and Silkwood has played a part in the Bulldogs’ advancement. They have posted a 74-42 record the past two seasons and qualified for the NCAA tournament both times. Silkwood sports a 40-24 college record, including 10 shutouts. She compiled a 26-16 mark with a 2.85 ERA for the 36-21 ‘Dogs the past spring and recorded 216 strikeouts in 235.2 innings.
“I learned to have more of an edge this season,” Silkwood said of her continued progression. “Coach (Vann Stuedeman) wanted me to really emphasize on every single pitch and how important it was to do that.
“So I tried to focus on making every pitch a good one and then make adjustments along the way.”
And Silkwood has learned to adapt ever since she began pitching, most notably at Marquette in 2010. During her storied four-year prep career, Silkwood established excellence in pitching. She holds IHSA records for wins (124), shutouts (100), strikeouts (1,907) and no-hitters (54). In addition, she threw 15 perfect games, second in state annals to Roxana’s D.J. Mathis, who had 19. Silkwood also logged a career ERA of 0.34.
During her freshman season at Mississippi State, she was 14-8 with a 2.19 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 153.1 innings. So there’s tangible improvement, specifically with her hitting.
She hit just .231 with limited at-bats as a freshman, but increased her average to .341 this season. The Bulldogs played her in the outfield and used her as a designated hitter when she wasn’t pitching. That thrilled Silkwood, a secondary education major.
“I told coach that I would do what she wants me to do and do what’s best for the team,” she said. “I’m not in the lineup all the time and I understand that.”
Of course, Stuedeman relied on Silkwood as the ace of the staff in the rugged Southeastern Conference. “Alexis has been our workhorse,” Stuedeman said.
Florida of the SEC won the national title by defeating Michigan, 4-1, in the championship affair. The Gators won two of three games from the Bulldogs during their season series. Silkwood beat them 5-3 on March 29 in Starkville and lost to them 3-2 on March 27. She was a two-time SEC Pitcher of the Week this season.
“That was one of the high points of the season,” Silkwood said of her victory over the Gators. “Kudos to Florida for winning the national championship because they have a solid team. Our conference is amazing because you are playing against the top teams in the country every weekend.
“We are with the big dogs.”
Those Bulldogs could be bigger dogs if they can emulate Florida’s success. That’s not unrealistic, Silkwood said.
“It’s a matter of who is playing the best ball at the right time of the season,” she said of the postseason competition. Mississippi State went to the Louisiana-Lafayette Regional this spring and won one of three games.
Silkwood added, “We’re not just satisfied going to the regional. We still want to be playing in June. We have to stay hungry and keep grinding. I’m looking forward to next season.”
If Silkwood had her way, she would play today.
“I’m ready for the season to start,” she said.
In the meantime, Silkwood spent several days working at a Little Kids softball camp in Starkville.
“We played some games and went over the simple basics of pitching,” she said. “It was fun and I enjoyed helping out in any way. If you want to be a pitcher, you have to love it because it’s not easy. You can’t be a pitcher overnight.”
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