Spartans look for first Big Ten victory against Nebraska
Despite losing 18 of its last 19 contests and fighting its way through a recent hitting slump, the MSU softball team maintains a loose attitude, according to sophomore pitcher Cassee Layne.
The Spartans (11-34 overall, 0-15 Big Ten) travel to Lincoln, Neb., this weekend for their first series with fourth-place Nebraska (29-18, 10-5) as a member of the Big Ten. The first game of a three-game series is at 1 p.m. Saturday at Nebraska’s Bowlin Stadium.
“On paper, they’re supposed to beat us, so they have more pressure on them than we do,” Layne said. “I feel like that’s an attitude that everyone shares because … if you feel pressure, then chances are you’re not performing really well.”
Although they are newcomers to the conference, head coach Jacquie Joseph said she’s very familiar with the Cornhuskers — a team she called a perennial power in the country.
“They’re a team that brings a lot of credibility and respect across the country,” Joseph said. “So I expect a nationally competitive team, I expect to play in a first-class facility and I think that they’re as formidable as any team we’ve played all year.”
More important than focusing on getting the team’s first Big Ten win of the season, Joseph said she wants to see continued improvement from her team this weekend, especially in pitching and run production.
Having a team ERA above six and average run production close to one is not an equation that will lead to a lot of wins, Joseph said.
“We have got to find a way to reverse our math — so give up less and score more,” she said.
Layne and the rest of the pitching staff will have to be sharp against Nebraska, which boasts a .296 team batting average — good for third in the Big Ten.
It won’t get much easier for MSU at the plate this weekend either, as they likely will face Nebraska pitcher Ashley Hagemann, who is 21-14 on the season with a 2.58 ERA.
Hagemann became the Cornhuskers’ all-time strikeout leader in their last game against Creighton.
Even though MSU remains winless in conference play, senior third baseman Ali Grant said the team hasn’t lost its motivation this year.
“If anything, we’ve come together even more as a team — the team chemistry has been great this year,” Grant said. “Normally, teams get dragged down from seasons like this, but I think we’ve come together, and it will definitely help all the younger kids in years to come.”
Joseph said traveling to Lincoln could prove a daunting task — especially considering the Cornhuskers are 11-0 at home. If the Spartans continue to play well defensively and can keep games close near the end, then they have a chance to win, she said.
“The great thing about softball in the Big Ten is that it’s very, very competitive nationally,” Joseph said.
“The tough thing about the Big Ten is it’s very, very competitive nationally — I mean we’re not a bad team, and we haven’t won a game.”