It was a weekend of disappointment for the MSU softball team as the Spartans were swept in a three-game series by No. 12 Michigan.
MSU traveled to Ann Arbor on Friday for a disastrous first game in which the Spartans lost, 21-2, behind 17 Wolverine hits.
Sunday featured a doubleheader in East Lansing after Saturday’s game was postponed because of weather that got off to a late start because of snow and rain. MSU dropped game two by an 11-2 margin in six innings due to the mercy rule and the Wolverines rallied late in game three to win, 8-7, in eight frames.
The teams entered the weekend holding the top two spots in the Big Ten, but Michigan (35-7 overall, 12-0 Big Ten) flexed its muscle to extend its winning streak to 17 games and remain undefeated in the conference.
Head coach Jacquie Joseph was pleased with her team’s adjustments from Friday to Sunday, and acknowledged the strength of the Wolverines, likening them to the University of Alabama football team.
“They are a World Series-caliber team, and we are not. And there’s no shame in owning that,” Joseph said.
“We are getting better. I feel great about us in the conference. They’re better than us right now, but what we did from Friday to Sunday, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Friday’s game began with an explosive start from Michigan as the Wolverines drove in six, 13 and two runs in the second through fourth innings to build the massive lead. MSU (21-17, 7-4) scored a single in the first inning and one more in the top of the fifth but it ended after the at-bat because of the lopsided score rule.
Freshman pitcher Dani Goranson allowed 15 hits in Sunday’s 11-2 loss that was also cut short. The Spartans tied it up 2-2 heading into the fifth inning when Michigan pulled away in a six-run fifth inning punctuated by Sierra Romero’s grand slam in the only at-bat MSU didn’t try to intentionally walk her at that point. Three more runs in the sixth ended that completed the rally by the Wolverines.
The finale was MSU’s best performance of the series — but as in the previous outing, a late-game explosion from Michigan was the difference.
Sarah Bowling’s two-run home run flew over the center field wall gave the Spartans a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second and MSU added another run in the third. The sophomore designated player finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs and said it’s been one of her dreams to homer against the Wolverines.
“We made huge adjustments, especially I’d say pitching today and at the plate,” Bowling said. “And I think it was just confidence. … We made huge adjustments just by gaining so much confidence through that.”
Michigan took the lead with three runs in the top of the sixth, but MSU countered with a four-run inning fueled by Bowling’s double that drove in two runs.
With a 7-4 lead in hand and three outs away from victory entering the final frame, the Spartans gave up three runs and one more in the eighth to end it. Junior pitcher Kelly Smith pitched the complete game, allowing 13 hits and striking out six. Junior third baseman Jayme O’Bryant joined Bowling as the only Spartan with multiple hits.
“I’m not proud of the results, I’m proud of the effort. I’m proud of the gap we narrowed,” Joseph said. “I thought we fought hard. … We’ve got to learn how to manage the inning better if we’re going to be a conference contender in the future.”
MSU returns to Secchia Stadium at Old College Field on Tuesday and Wednesday with matches against Notre Dame and Toledo.
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