Column: Big changes needed after tough season
It should go without saying that the MSU softball team is in need of a dramatic turnaround next season if it wants to avoid repeating a tragic season that saw the Spartans go without a single conference win in Big Ten play.
MSU ended its season with 19 straight losses and finished with a 11-42 overall record.
Near the end of the season, head coach Jacquie Joseph said her team needed to reverse its math — allow fewer runs and produce more of its own. Easier said than done when the team had the worst ERA in the Big Ten at 6.31 and 10th-best batting average at .249, the Spartans should be searching for an entirely new equation in 2013.
One has to be curious, however, about the future of Joseph as the head coach at MSU. Although she is the winningest coach in MSU history with a 541-487-1 all-time record, the Spartans have finished higher than sixth place in the Big Ten only once in the last 10 seasons — in 2003 when they finished third.
As far as next season is concerned, the pitching staff will have to improve on a season in which they allowed the most hits, runs and home runs in the conference and also hit more batters than any squad.
In all fairness, the majority of the pitching duties were handled by young pitchers Cassee Layne and Carly Nielsen, a sophomore and freshman respectively. Hopefully, another year older is another year wiser inside the circle for the Spartans’ sake.
The duo showed flashes of brilliance at times, while still showing youthful growing pains far too often.
But if there was one constant in 2012, it was inconsistency from MSU batters at the plate. Only two Spartans senior left fielder Lori Padilla and junior center fielder Kylene Hopkins had batting averages north of .300.
With run production as dismal as it was, MSU finished 10th in the Big Ten in runs scored, runs batted in and hits — combined with ineffective pitching, victories are typically hard to come by. And they were.
Padilla, who also started every game, and senior right fielder Ali Grant, who started all but three games, leave the most pressing voids in the lineup of the five departing seniors.
The bottom line is something has to change in 2013 — whether that change occurs on the coaching staff, in overall team strategy or player attitude — to avoid another disastrous season. The fans and supporters of the softball program deserve a better product, and it’s a shame MSU didn’t muster a single victory in the beautiful 1,200-seat Secchia Stadium at Old College Field, which opened a little over a year ago.
To Joseph’s credit, however, her team appeared to remain optimistic and continued to fight, despite only winning one game in April and May combined, judging from the players’ comments and body language.
When MSU lost its final doubleheader of the season, Grant said afterward that it was one of the most memorable days as a softball player she’s ever had.
“I’m going to think about how fun this season was — everyone got along so well,” Grant said.
In her 19th season, Joseph still was able to keep the team motivated, although wins were few and far between. As likeable as the passionate Joseph is, it’s not unrealistic to expect a new face in the dugout, considering her teams have had Big Ten winning percentages above .500 only four times in her tenure at MSU.