Softball breaks from Big Ten play with Notre Dame game
The MSU softball team gets a much needed break from Big Ten play today when it travels to South Bend, Ind., for a 6 p.m. matchup with Notre Dame.
The Spartans (11-33 overall, 0-15 Big Ten) limp into the contest on the heels of a weekend series sweep by Iowa in which they lost their 10th consecutive game. Notre Dame (26-13) enters the game trending upward, having won five straight and currently sitting in fourth in the Big East standings.
“Notre Dame is a very good team,” head coach Jacquie Joseph said. “If Notre Dame was in the Big Ten they’d be competitive.
“We have our work cut out for us for sure.”
MSU will need to shake off its recent hitting slump to compete with the Fighting Irish, who have five batters averaging more than .300 this season compared to MSU, who has just two.
The Spartans have struggled at the plate in recent games and only scored two runs in the three-game series against Iowa.
Whoever pitches for the Spartans likely will duel Laura Winter, who sports a 2.07 ERA and 18-8 record this year.
Winter was named Big East Softball Pitcher of the Week following a weekend sweep of DePaul in which she threw a no-hitter.
Joseph said a win would be a confidence boost for MSU, which is crucial coming down the final stretch of the season, but a loss leaves the team in the same spot they are now.
“I think it’s another opportunity (against) a good team,” she said.
“Whether it helps us or hurts us going on the road or not, I don’t know.”
Freshman pitcher Carly Nielsen said the midweek change of pace from the grind of the conference schedule will be a welcomed one.
After the weekend sweep by the Hawkeyes, MSU remains the only winless team in Big Ten play.
“It might change the mindset of some of the players, I guess — they might think it’s a little bit easier (and) we can relax,” Nielsen said.
“That might help going into the next Big Ten game if we can just relax.”
The Spartans have gotten decent production from the top of their order lately, with senior outfielder Lori Padilla and junior outfielder Kylene Hopkins — who has the third best batting average in the Big Ten at .408 — leading the charge, but will need more action from the rest of the lineup to dig themselves out of their recent slump.
Hopkins and Padilla are one and two for the Spartans this season in batting average, runs and hits.
“We know how crucial a Big Ten win is,” Padilla said. “And going to face a team out of conference, we can take a step back, breathe a little bit and be like, ‘Alright, this is a game, let’s just play the game.’”
Padilla said she expects a well-rounded team in the Fighting Irish, who rank in the top half of their conference in total team batting, pitching and fielding. The senior, who views herself as a leader, said she has to stay humble and levelheaded to help keep her teammates together and focused despite the recent struggles.
“I just really have to embrace that role and just make sure that everyone understands it’s one game at a time,” she said.
“Even simpler than that, it’s one pitch at a time.”