MSU to play in-state rival U-M in three-game series


MSU softball coach Jacquie Joseph wants to downplay the excitement of this weekend’s rivalry series with No. 12 Michigan as much as possible, but she knows that can’t happen.

The second-place Spartans (21-14 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) will meet the Big Ten-leading Wolverines (32-7, 9-0) at 4 p.m. today in Ann Arbor, before returning home for 1 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday.

“One of the reasons we’ve had some success lately is we’re not playing the jersey,” Joseph said, according to audio provided by the athletic department.

“And I think it’ll be real, real important for us to not get caught up in the hype of Michigan-Michigan State. I mean, it is a great rivalry. It is why kids choose Michigan or Michigan State for a sense, in terms of the excitement of that rivalry.”

Junior pitcher Kelly Smith, who has been instrumental in the program’s turnaround this season, while emerging as one of the conference’s best, will battle a dangerous batting order for the Maize and Blue.

The Wolverines lead the Big Ten in team batting with a collective .341 average. Three Michigan batters are among the top-15 hitters in the conference, while eight players are batting north of .300.

Led by the pitching duo of Haylie Wagner and Sara Driesenga, who combine for a 31-6 record so far this season, the Wolverines are ranked third in the Big Ten in team pitching.

“They have just an outstanding ball club,” Joseph said. “… Maybe the most impressive is their hitting lineup, they’ve got a real murderer’s row. Whereas, in the past, the other teams have had one, maybe two hitters we had to stay away from, Michigan sends up seven, eight, nine hitters, and we’ve gotta be on our toes for every hitter. There’s not any lulls in the lineup, if you will.”

The Spartans will take the field for the first time since going 2-1 last weekend in a series with Purdue. MSU’s games against Central Michigan and Western Michigan cancelled because of weather on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I feel good about where we are,” Joseph said. “I’m a little disappointed in that the weather hasn’t been great this week for us to get out and get to some things that I would like to get at.

“But all in all, we could not be in a better place in terms of momentum and team chemistry. And I think the players are really doing a great job of staying dialed in and focused on what we need to do.”

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