MSU taking season slow after rough start
Jacquie Joseph is throwing out previous Big Ten matchups, tough losses and even solid victories.
The MSU softball head coach doesn’t care what her team has done in the past — regardless of how well or how poorly it played — and is focusing on the present and winning one game at a time.
She doesn’t care about the preseason, or about splitting the last two series against Wisconsin and Penn State or about opening the conference season with two losses to Illinois. She wants to get her team back on track by taking two road games from Iowa (19-15 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) on Saturday and Sunday.
“All I care about is playing good defense,” Joseph said. “If we play good defense at Iowa, (I’m) going to be happy on Monday. … So that’s where my focus is right now — play better defensively because then everything will come together based on that.”
Seen in the Spartans’ (20-15, 2-4) 8-6 loss and 7-6 win over Penn State on Wednesday, they struggled to play tight infield defense, making costly errors and giving up runs.
When Joseph watches MSU defensively in practice, she said the team makes few to no errors, so she’s not sure why solid practices are not converting into tough defense in games. Thinking it’s a mental factor, Joseph is trying to alleviate unnecessary pressure while they practice to defend Iowa’s aggressive offense.
“The outfield has been shifting, moving up and back,” junior outfielder Lori Padilla said. “(It’s) knowing which pitcher’s on the mound for us, so we’re prepared in the outfield.
“Our infield is getting some work, (and) we need to clean up a little bit.”
Dating back to the 2007 season, the Hawkeyes have won the last eight contests against MSU. From previous matchups and scouting, Joseph said the Spartans can handle every strategy Iowa uses, but there’s a curveball thrown into the mix.
“Iowa is an unknown in the sense that they have a new coach, and I think sometimes knowing the coach and what the coach’s tendencies can be almost as important as knowing the team,” Joseph said.
She said the Hawkeyes are no better or worse than the other conference opponents MSU has seen, and they are included in a group of Big Ten teams who are at about the same level.
To win, the Spartans will have to respond a little quicker in adjusting to Iowa’s game and be mindful of their defensive positioning. Although she’s looking for better defense all around, Joseph said there still needs to be an equal balance in success with pitching and hitting as well.
“I see it as more of a fundamental contest, (and) who does those three things better than the other team,” Joseph said.
“Obviously, the more runs you score, the less pressure there is on the pitching. The better you pitch, the less pressure there is on the defense. The better defense, the less pressure on the pitching.”
Despite struggling, MSU still is in the opening stages of its Big Ten season, so it has several opportunities to change its game-day playing.
However, the Spartans said they need to get two weekend wins under their belts to put them on the positive track.
“We don’t have a very good record in the Big Ten right now, (and) we have to win these games and our momentum needs to go up from here,” sophomore pitcher Shelby Wise said.
MSU knows what the Hawkeyes are capable of, but it has an advantage coming off of a win against Penn State. In contrast, Iowa is on a three-game losing streak, two of which came from road losses to Purdue last weekend.
Padilla said Iowa’s lineup includes several aggressive hitters who like to put the ball in play. Always being a defensive challenge, the Spartan pitchers will have to step up as well.
“As a team, we have a mentality of we need these wins, and we need to take these wins,” Padilla said.
“We feel like we earn it and deserve it, so we’re going to go after it.”