Finally healthy, the MSU softball team is rounding into form, even if only six games remain on the schedule.
The Spartans notched their first Big Ten wins of the season, sweeping Minnesota over the weekend to move their conference record to 2-11. Heading home to face Penn State in a doubleheader today, MSU has a chance to move into the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, more than could have been imagined even a few weeks ago.
That’s because the team was hampered by injuries — with three players originally pegged as starters out — leaving the Spartans to start a plethora of young players. At one point,
MSU fielded five true freshmen for games, depending on who was on the mound.
A big piece missing was senior second baseman Gina Mondo. As one of the teams leading hitters, Mondo sat hurt for three weeks, leaving a leadership void in the infield and a hole in the lineup. In the three games since her return, Mondo has gone 3-for-7 with two runs, two walks and a home run, helping the Spartans to two wins.
“Mondo was the most significant because she was our senior in the infield,” head coach Jacquie Joseph said. “(She) had been through the most experience and was just such a key contributor.”
But for as much as getting healthy has helped, the absence of so many players allowed younger players to get valuable experience in the field. One of those players, freshman pitcher Lauren Kramer, has rounded into one of MSU’s key starters.
“I think maturity has a lot to do with it,” Kramer said. “I finally got all of the pieces together, hitting my spots, being consistent. You gotta get the hang of it. When you’re in club ball, you can miss and get away with it. In Division I softball it’s pretty difficult to get lucky.”
In the past two weeks, Kramer has started six games for the Spartans, going 4-0 with 45 strikeouts. Her only loss during the stretch came in relief, when she threw four strikeouts and one earned run in a little more than three innings of work in a 4-3 loss to Oakland.
“I think it’s a combination of things, but it starts on the mound,” Mondo said. “Kramer came in and pitched two great games for us, then our senior (Megan Hair) closed out one of the games. From then on out it was just a team effort. I think the young kids understanding is definitely a part of it.”
With Penn State looming, Joseph said she hopes the team can continue its winning mentality on the field.
“We’re not gonna get too caught up in whether we win or we lose but how are we playing,” Joseph said. “I think if we can do those things, I think we will have positive outcomes. They’re playing pretty good right now.”
Today’s opponent, Penn State, is a team that MSU matches up well with, Joseph said, something that hopefully will play to the Spartans’ advantage today. The one obstacle may be pitcher Jackie Hill. Hill is sporting a miniscule 0.99 ERA, the second-best mark in the Big Ten.
“They’ve got that one great pitcher just like Minnesota had,” Joseph said. “If we can figure out a way to beat her we’ll be OK.”
The first game starts at 3 p.m. today at Old College Field.
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