The MSU softball team (20-20 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) was defeated by No. 2 University of Michigan (30-4 overall, 8-2 Big Ten) on Wednesday, 3-0. A pitcher’s duel was broken up by a fifth-inning U-M rally.
The stands of Secchia Stadium at Old College Field were filled to capacity for Wednesday afternoon’s in-state rivalry game. Fans were split between Spartan green and Wolverine blue.
Through four innings, neither team could muster a run. MSU’s Kristina Zalewski, who allowed one hit in the first four innings, and U-M’s Megan Betsa, who allowed two, were dueling one another to a draw.
Also contributing to the early gridlock was the Spartan defense.
"I thought we played (defense) as well as you’re going to play, given that they hit the ball as hard as they do," MSU head coach Jacquie Joseph said. "I thought we made some outstanding defensive plays."
MSU second baseman Destinee Luna led the defense with eight assists, also adding two putouts. Shortstop MacKenzie Long praised Luna and Zalewski for their efforts after the game.
"(Zalewski) did an absolute amazing job," Long said. "Luna did a great job on defense."
Luna said that defense is the biggest strength of her game.
"I’m just trying to get an out on every play," Luna said. "That’s our team motto."
A U-M scoring run in the top of the fifth inning provided the game’s first scoring. Three consecutive singles off Zalewski loaded the bases for the Wolverines, and Spartan head coach Jacquie Joseph pulled Zalewski in favor of Bridgette Rainey.
The Wolverines proceeded to score a run on a single by the second batter Rainey faced, Abby Ramirez. A costly error in the Spartan infield and a wild pitch by Rainey led to the second and third runs of the inning being scored.
In last season’s MSU matchup at U-M, the Wolverines came back from down 3-0 to win 4-3. However, the Spartans were unable to return the favor, as U-M’s 3-0 lead proved insurmountable. ch
In the top of the sixth inning, a U-M leadoff single threatened to start another rally. On the next play, three Spartans clustered around a pop fly in short center field, and Long dove to make the grab. However, she was injured on the play, and dropped the catch. Teammate Celeste Wood grabbed the ball and threw to second base in time for a crucial out. The inning ended without any other Michigan hits.
I’m just happy that my teammates finished the play," Long said. "That’s all that matters...The biggest thing is that we stopped the bleeding because we got the out. I didn’t make the play that I wanted to make, but I wanted to show that I’m all in for them."
Long, who exited the game after her slide, returned to bat in the sixth inning.
"MacKenzie Long, she’s a warrior," Luna said. "She has a lot of bumps and bruises, but she keeps going out there. I tip my hat to her. She’s trying her best, just like the rest of us."
Yet upon her return, Long suffered a second injury. After being violently tagged and knocked down while trying to beat out a ground ball, Long was forced to exit the game for good.
"We try to recruit tough kids, and she’s a tough kid," Joseph said. "She wants to go if she can go. She’s really beat up, has a lot of chronic injuries, so I’m sorry to see her go down. But I’m always happy to see her get back up."
MSU nearly mounted a rally with two out in the sixth inning, when they had runners on first and second base, but they left both on base. After an uneventful seventh inning, the Wolverines, ranked No. 2 in the nation, closed out the game with a win.
"The game doesn’t know who’s supposed to win," Joseph said. "So if you suit up, you play well, you execute, you give yourself a chance to win. There’s no guarantees. We pitched very well today. We played great defense today. But we didn’t score any runs. If you don’t score any runs, you can’t beat anyone."
MSU and U-M will complete their home-and-home set on April 19 in Ann Arbor, but the team's focus is now set on Indiana, Joseph said. The Hoosiers will travel to MSU for a three-game series this weekend.
"(Michigan is) still going to be a great team next week," Joseph said. "And I hope that we’re improved next week. So we’ll take it one game at a time. More importantly for us is Friday. We gotta win the games that we can win, and not worry about Michigan four games from now."
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