Softball struggles to hang on, falls to Michigan 8-0
For the first four innings, the MSU softball team was step-for-step with No. 20 Michigan at Secchia Stadium at Old College Field.
But then came the fifth.
Freshman pitcher Carly Nielsen threw four innings of shutout softball before letting up a one-out, two-RBI single to U-M’s Haylie Wagner that sparked an eight-run fifth inning that ended the Spartans’ day early, falling at home 8-0.
“We had one of the best starting pitching performances we’d had all year, (but) we gave them an opening and the good team capitalized,” head coach Jacquie Joseph said.
After giving up the pair of runs, Nielsen walked the next batter and was pulled in favor of sophomore Cassee Layne, who allowed three more runners to come home before senior Rebecca Rogers entered the circle.
“I had been behind in the counts quite a bit, but I was really struggling a bit more in the fifth inning,” Nielsen said. “(Through four) I thought I was doing a little bit better about getting ahead in the count, but then towards the end I just started to slip away.”
With two runners on, Rogers surrendered a three-run home run to Lauren Sweet that ended up being the final nail in MSU’s coffin as the Spartans went three up, three down in the bottom of the fifth inning to end the game on an invocation of the NCAA’s mercy rule.
The Wolverines had been coming after Nielsen all day, using aggressive hitting tactics to advance the runners early on. However, Nielsen and the Spartan fielders made strong plays to keep U-M at bay, and the sophomore remained composed in the circle — at least through four innings.
“I really like to play defense, so it didn’t bother me a lot,” Nielsen said about U-M’s strategy.
Joseph also used a more aggressive strategy on offense, tweaking her line-up to go with some of her stronger hitters in an effort to “outslug” the Wolverines. But the plan backfired, as the Spartans ended up with only two hits on the day.
“I went with offense, it didn’t pan out the way I would have liked, but it didn’t hurt us on defense either,” Joseph said. “We’ll think it through and figure out what we’re going to do. It’s a long shot regardless, they’re a better team. But what we’re trying to do is put a plan together where if we execute it, the game doesn’t know.”
MSU’s two hits came in the second and the fourth, both from the inning’s leadoff batters. But the Spartans were unable to take advantage of the runners in the same way U-M did, something that has plagued the team all season.
“We leave too many (on base) sometimes,” sophomore utility player Sarah Bowling said. “We need to learn from what they were doing, we need to capitalize the way they capitalized.”
The Spartans fall to 11-28 on the season and 0-10 in the Big Ten — the only team in the conference without a Big Ten win. MSU will return to action Sunday at 1 p.m. when the Spartans will finish up the series with a double-header against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.