After the MSU softball team took a step forward by snapping its seven-game losing streak with a win at Central Michigan last Wednesday, it took three steps backward when the Spartans were swept by Penn State during the weekend.
Now, MSU (11-26 overall, 0-9 Big Ten) is looking to right the ship once again as it prepares for a midweek game Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Secchia Stadium at Old College Field against Eastern Michigan, before it gears up to face in-state rival Michigan for a three-game series this weekend. However, head coach Jacquie Joseph said the biggest challenge for her team won’t be the Eagles, but the Spartans themselves.
“It’s difficult for them to stay positive,” she said. “I don’t think the opponent matters at this point. This is uncharted territory for us, so it’s harder for them to focus on the positives.”
More than anything else, Joseph said MSU needs to focus on getting its pitchers in a groove. On the season, the Spartan pitchers have posted a teamwide ERA of 6.65, while allowing opponents to hit .354 and giving up 252 total runs.
“It shouldn’t put pressure on us, but it should make us want to focus,” sophomore pitcher Cassee Layne said about the recent pitching performances. “We need to show up ready to play, for sure.”
Layne has spent the most time in the circle for the Spartans this year, but freshman Carly Nielsen has seen her fair share of action as well, throwing 41 strikeouts in 83 innings of play.
On the offensive side of the plate, the Spartans are led by junior outfielder Kylene Hopkins and senior outfielder Lori Padilla, who are hitting .408 and .365, respectively. The two are tied atop MSU’s roster with 42 hits apiece.
Padilla said so far, the Spartans have had trouble putting games away, something they will have to work on by simulating pressure situations in practice.
“A couple of those games, we really had them in the bag, but in the fifth or sixth inning, we just let the other team have it,” she said.
Joseph echoed the sentiment, saying that the majority of MSU’s innings this season have been well-played.
“But in the one negative inning, it’s hugely negative,” she said. “We’ve talked at length about a bend-don’t-break mentality, give them a run or two that they earn but don’t turn it into an eight-run inning by walks, hit batters and errors.”
MSU likely will face off against either Jenna Ignowski or Lindsay Rich, who have been splitting pitching duties for the Eagles. As a team, Eastern Michigan has posted an ERA of 3.48.
In 43 meetings with Eastern Michigan, MSU holds the 29-14 advantage, including a season sweep in two games last year. Still, Joseph knows many of the Eagles come to East Lansing with a chip on their shoulder, and she has been preparing her team for a dogfight.
“They’re hungry,” Joseph said. “I know they come in here with nothing to lose, and that makes them very dangerous. A nothing-to-lose team makes them a very dangerous team.
“(But) we should be starving.”