The Spartan softball team split a doubleheader with Minnesota Sunday afternoon at Secchia Stadium, winning the first game 3-2 and dropping the second game 6-2.
After winter conditions limited the series to just the two games, it was redshirt senior Kristina Zalewski picking up the win in relief in game one, but also getting the loss in starting duty in game two.
“I would say I was super proud of the way we pitched it,” head coach Jacquie Joseph said postgame. “These conditions were brutal at best. It’s very difficult to grip a ball, let alone spin a ball, in these temperatures. I thought both our pitchers gave us a chance to win both games, and we just couldn’t get it going in game two, but we came up with some big hits in game one. To split the series with them is pretty good.”
Bridgette Rainey, a senior left-hander, flirted with a no-hitter going into the sixth inning of game one, but it was ended loudly. Minnesota catcher Kendyl Lindaman hit a line-drive home run to center field, and infielder Sydney Dwyer followed it up with another bomb to tie the score.
The Spartans’ offense used a mixture of small ball and power to scratch across three runs in the first game. Junior outfielder Lexi White doubled in the second, and sophomore Summer Callahan was inserted as a pinch runner. The decision paid off immediately, with the speedy Callahan scoring on two wild pitches by the Gophers.
“It’s nice when things work out the way they’re supposed to,” Joseph said. "That’s the way we do it. It doesn’t always work out.”
Senior center fielder Lea Foerster bombed a solo home run to right field to move the Spartans advantage to 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth.
Rainey was asked postgame if she knew about the no-hitter she had into the sixth, where she struggled and was eventually replaced by Zalewski,
“It’s always something that you’re kind of aware of,” she said. “It’s just thinking to stay in it each pitch, and not let what is happening overcrowd your mind.”
Her teammates didn’t mention the no-hitter, as is tradition, but didn’t completely isolate her the way teams sometimes do to a pitcher working a gem.
“I was just doing my thing, staying in the process of what we always do, and sitting at the front to cheer them on,” Rainey said.
Sophomore first baseman Kelsea Carrasco produced the eventual game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth, taking a breaking ball and depositing it over the right-center fence.
“I think I’m that player that they need to produce like that,” Carrasco said. “I think it’s needed, it’s not ‘wow, it happened,” it’s needed. I’m glad I was able to produce like that for them today.”
With the tying run at first base, Joseph elected to have Gopher star Lindaman intentionally walked, moving the tying run to second. The next player grounded out to end the game. Lindaman was also intentionally walked three times in Game two, scoring one run.
“I wasn’t gonna let her beat me, makes no sense,” Joseph said. “She’s got 14, 15 home runs; the kid behind her has four. You could’ve made that decision it was that easy. (I view it) as being confident in our pitchers to get the next girl out.”
In game two, the Spartan bats went quiet, and the Gophers jumped on early mistakes from Zalewski, knocking nine hits, including a two-run home run to left field by center fielder Dani Wagner in the sixth inning.
“I was happy with how we came out and competed, but in Big Ten softball, you can’t take a single pitch off,” Foerster said. “We got in the right positions and didn’t capitalize on that, and you can’t really do that when you’re playing a team like Minnesota, they’re a great team.”
Rainey was, as expected, muted in her praise of the split against a tough Minnesota team.
“We want to win every single game no matter what. Whether it’s a good team or a bad team, that’s the goal every time we step on the field,” she said. “So, it’s always disappointing to not get the win both times, but we’re still learning and we’re still growing as a team, and we’re just trying to get better every game.”
The Spartans travel to Ann Arbor on Wednesday afternoon to take on University of Michigan. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
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