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MSU softball too much for Western Michigan, defeat Broncos 12-2

March 30, 2016
Assistant coach Kaela Jackson high fives players during the game against Broncos on March 29, 2016 at Secchia Softball Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Western Broncos, x-x.
Assistant coach Kaela Jackson high fives players during the game against Broncos on March 29, 2016 at Secchia Softball Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Western Broncos, x-x. —
Photo by Emily Elconin | and Emily Elconin The State News

An offensive explosion helped the MSU softball team (18-14, 1-2 Big Ten) achieve a 12-2 win in an in-state rivalry game against the Western Michigan University Broncos (10-15, 1-2 MAC) on Tuesday afternoon. The game was called off after four and a half innings because of the collegiate mercy rule.

The Michigan State softball team is coming off the opening of their conference season against Wisconsin last weekend. The Spartans went 1-2 in the home series against UW, earning a victory in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Saturday’s second game, a one-run loss, was particularly heartbreaking for players like third baseman McKenzie Long.

“It was important for us to come back from that because it was one of those games where we let it get away,” Long said. “We came back, and we fought.”

Taking the mound for the Spartans was Bridgette Rainey, who made her fifth start of the season. She faced Allyson Kus, Western Michigan’s ace.

The Broncos kicked things off with a busy first inning. They loaded the bases with just one out, and Abby Stoner then drove in two runs with a single. Despite re-loading the bases with a second walk, Rainey was able to avoid further damage in the inning, escaping after two runs and three hits.

Rainey would go on to pitch a complete five-inning game, and she held the Broncos scoreless and hitless throughout the rest of the game.

MSU answered WMU’s hot start with a six-run bottom of the first. Sarah Gutknecht, McKenzie Long, Lexi White, and Shanin Thomas all hit RBI singles. A two-run double by Spartan second baseman and ninth batter Destinee Luna cut Kus’s outing short, as she was pulled from the game and replaced by WMU reliever Arissa Sanchez. Sanchez ended WMU’s disastrous inning by striking out Lea Forester, who had scored a run earlier in the inning.

Ross said that one key to keeping the early run alive was to focus on making sure runners were not stranded on base instead of going for flashier plays.

“We really emphasize team offense this year,” Ross said. “So when we move runners, and are excited about moving runners, the next people come up and do their job.”

The active first inning, which featured eight Bronco and ten Spartan at-bats, took nearly forty minutes to play out.

After that, Spartans tacked on five more runs in the third inning. MSU scored a run on a Lindsey Besson single. Last week’s Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Ebonee Echols, stepped up to the plate a few minutes later with the bases loaded. She hit a shot all the way to the warning track, ending up with 3 RBI and a standup triple.

This led to another Bronco pitching change, as Sanchez was pulled in favor of freshman Syler Sobeski, who made her first pitching appearance of the season. Echols scored on Celeste Wood’s sacrifice fly on the next play.

After another scoreless inning for WMU, the Spartans tacked another run on the board, as Lexi White hit her second home run of the season. She said that the home run, along with the rest of her 3-for-3, 3 RBI, 3-run performance, were good momentum for her heading into games on Wednesday and over the weekend.

“I’m seeing the ball well,” White said.

The game ended just an inning later. Rainey’s continued shutdown of the Western Michigan offense led to the application of the mercy rule.

Echols said that the high-scoring win was a sign of good things to come for the MSU offense.

“We already know that we can hit,” Echols said. “Just knowing that we can put that many runs on the board tells you how good we can be.”

Head coach Jackie Johnson commended her team, especially her five starting right-handed hitters, for not chasing pitches outside the strike zone in the victory.

“They really tried to pitch a lot of our right-handed players outside, and a lot of our players were able to go with those pitches really well today, as opposed to rolling over them and grounding out, which we’ve had them doing in the past. So we hit to all fields, we set changeups, we did not swing at pitches out of the zone, so our success was due to the fact that we were really dialed in and we didn’t expand the strike zone.”

MSU will carry the momentum from Tuesday’s win over to Wednesday, as they will face another in-state rival, Western Michigan. After that, the team will head to College Station, Pa. for a Big Ten road series at Penn State this weekend. White said that series at Penn State will be a key one for MSU to win.

“The main goal is to win the series,” White said. “We set a standard today, and now we have to live up to it.”

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