FINAL: Spartan softball falters in the clutch, falls to Michigan, 3-1
The Spartans had their chances, and against an All-American, it’s all the green and white could hope for. But it was too little too late for MSU, as the Alumni Field crowd came to its feet celebrating the Wolverine victory, 3-1.
MSU ended the game with a whopping 11 batters left stranded on base. In a game where two runs made the difference, it was huge.
“I think that execution has been the problem,” head coach Jacquie Joseph said. “We had our chances this game, we were in the game. We just couldn’t finish.”
The rivalry game came exactly a week after the two teams dueled in the same venue. There, the Spartans were dismantled by U-M pitcher Megan Betsa in a 5-1 loss.
Betsa again took the mound as the starting pitcher in round two against the Spartans. MSU had a demoralizing look at Betsa last week, as the senior struck out 17 Spartans last time out. Adding insult to injury, Betsa's one run given up was of the unearned variety.
With the game underway, Betsa forced her presence on the game from the get-go. The All-American struck out the side, sandwiched around a walk to sit the Spartans down.
Heading to the bottom of the first, a milestone. Spartan starter Kristina Zalewski recorded her 400th career strikeout at MSU, a mark only four other Spartans have reached.
Facing a nationally ranked rival, however, Zalewski had little time to celebrate. She was met with a rude awakening in the second, loading the bases to the Wolverines with just one out.
As MSU dipped in and out of trouble, the dam cracked, the minuscule cracks in the wall culminating in a pair of runs for the Wolverines. A mere fielder's choice doomed the Spartans.
Junior catcher Lindsey Besson couldn’t handle the throw from third baseman Kaitlyn Eveland as the ball bounced away from home plate. As the chaos and dust settled, the Wolverines held the 2-0 lead after the mishap.
The Spartans, however, refused to lay low after the sudden deficit. Following a single and a walk, MSU finally tacked on an earned run on Betsa. A single by McKenzie Long glanced off the glove of a Wolverine as Baccay scored for MSU.
With its lead sliced in half, U-M bit back. Wolverine shortstop Abby Ramirez hit a single to left field, the ball dampened as it hit the glove of a Spartan. With the runner heading for home, sophomore outfielder Ebonee Echols fired the ball, looking to preserve the one-run deficit.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Besson failed to corral the throw and another unearned run scored, providing the Wolverines insurance, as they went up, 3-1.
Then came the theatrics. With the Spartans desperate to close the gap, the weight of the world fell on Echols. The sophomore strolled up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, her team looking for the equalizing two runs.
In the biggest moment of the game, Echols failed to deliver, as she struck out swinging. Despite the wonky control issuing seven batters a walk, Betsa came out victorious in the matchup, walking back to her dugout as the roar of the crowd enveloped her.
Just three outs away from defeat, the Spartans mustered up a single against Betsa. But the senior locked down and punched back, striking out the last three MSU batters faced.