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Joseph: Spartans ready for Indiana, unknown pitcher Melloh

April 20, 2011

After a nine-day break, Jacquie Joseph is excited for the MSU softball team’s weekend series against Indiana at Secchia Stadium.

Not only does the head coach want to see what the Spartans (21-18 overall, 3-7 Big Ten) can do to finish their season solidly, but she also is ready to see how the solid-hitting team will react to Indiana pitcher Morgan Melloh — who Joseph called the second-best pitcher in the conference.

“If people haven’t seen Morgan Melloh pitch, she’s as good as anybody in the United States,” Joseph said. “I’d put her second (in the Big Ten) to only (Michigan’s) Jordan Taylor. … Melloh can easily come in here and strike out 15. She throws the ball that hard and has that commanding of pitches.”

Melloh — who transferred from Fresno State this season — posted 21 strikeouts against Wisconsin on April 16, giving up only five hits in the Hoosiers’ 4-3 win.

Indiana (28-15, 8-2) currently is on an eight-game winning streak after sweeping Wisconsin — which MSU split — but the Spartans had a significant break to prepare for the weekend.

“We’re really looking to show Indiana that we’re not an easy, pushover team,” junior outfielder Lori Padilla said. “Wisconsin gave them a run for their money, and Indiana came out with a win, but I think we have a pretty good chance. We’ve been studying; we’ve been watching their games on the Big Ten Network.”

The Spartans’ offense — led by senior shortstop Lindsey Hansen’s .420 batting average — will test Melloh’s pitching, which they’ve never faced before.

Carrying the Hoosiers, Melloh maintains a 1.84 earned-run average and leads the Big Ten with 375 strikeouts, compared to MSU freshman pitcher Cassee Layne’s 92.

Melloh also enters the series with a 23-14 record for the season.

With Indiana having mediocre offense and defense, Joseph said the weekend series will be a test to see who’s stronger mentally: MSU’s hitting or the Hoosiers’ pitching.

“It’s just like getting excited for Ali-Holmes or Ali-Frazier matchups,” Joseph said. “We’re a good hitting team, but they’re a good pitching team … so I’m excited to see how we face her.”

Assuming Melloh will pitch both games, MSU has been studying how she throws and how she reacts in different situations. Also to their advantage, the Spartans saw a variety of pitchers earlier in the season, so they’re hoping few styles will surprise them, Padilla said.

With the mystery of never facing Melloh before, MSU will have to capitalize on any of her mistakes to get the hits they need.

If the team is able to respond quickly enough, it hopefully will be able to take the series, junior catcher Brett Williams said.

“It’s just more of less making adjustments throughout the game and really paying attention to your first at-bat,” she said. “Then from there, just seeing what you’re doing and what other people are doing and making adjustments, because it’s just about who makes their adjustments faster.”

Although Joseph is “as excited as anything” to see how MSU handles Indiana, she also has the Spartans driven toward finishing their season on a high note.

MSU has 15 remaining games, and Padilla said the team is placing importance on how it finishes, rather than how it started.

“It’s just us going out there and doing our jobs,” Williams said. “We’re trying to finish strong as a team and really try to get some momentum going for the rest of the year.”

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