The MSU softball team will head to Bloomington, Ind., this weekend for its final tournament before the Big Ten season gets underway. The team is looking to improve on fundamentals as well as get acclimated to colder weather in the Midwest.
“I just want us to come out very aggressively and play competitive softball,” senior outfielder Kylene Hopkins said. “Make sure that all three aspects of our game — our pitching, defense and hitting — are all where they should be right now. I want them all just to work together so we put out the most solid team that we can.”
The Spartans (14-11) were able to conduct practice outside for the first time this year on Thursday, which is important to head coach Jacquie Joseph — even if it was on the field of DeMartin Stadium at Old College Field, not Secchia Stadium.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing,” Joseph said. “I mean, we’re on a soccer field, we’re not on the softball field. It’s better than nothing.”
MSU begins the weekend with games against Wright State and Central Michigan on Saturday before wrapping up on Sundaywith two more games against Illinois-Chicago and Toledo.
Sunday will be the third time this season the Spartans have met UIC, winning both previous matchups by scores of 5-1 and 11-7.
Joseph said she’s looking to get freshman pitcher Dani Goranson going this weekend by starting her in two games. Goranson has a 2-4 record this season with a 2.88 ERA in 12 appearances.
Junior Kelly Smith is expected to handle pitching duties in at least one of the other games, if not both. Smith has gone 11-6 this season in 17 starts, while tallying 120 strikeouts and a 2.25 ERA.
Joseph, in her 20th season at MSU, also wants to solidify her offensive lineup by making a few tweaks and focusing on driving in runners in scoring position.
MSU ranks seventh in the Big Ten in team batting, and ninth in both team pitching and team fielding. The Spartans have stranded 172 players on the bases, which is what Joseph wants to fix.
“Of course there’s things we need to work on,” senior third baseman Jayme O’Bryant said. “We need to work on our hitting, especially situational hitting. We get runners in scoring position, we just don’t score them. We need to work on our offense. Our pitching is dominating. Our defense is really coming around.”
Hopkins and O’Bryant are first and third on the team in batting average as two of three players batting north of .300. Hopkins is hitting .434 and her 33 hits are the second-most in the Big Ten.
After this weekend, a Wednesday showdown with Western Michigan is all that stands in the way of the start of the Big Ten slate.
“Nothing makes you more excited than to come back after going through something like that and just proving everybody wrong,” Hopkins said.
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