An offensive explosion and walk-off home run by junior catcher Kendall Kates lifted the Michigan State softball team to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Rutgers in game one of the doubleheader.
Like Friday’s matchup between these same teams, MSU quickly found themselves with a deficit, this time in a weird way. On the second pitch of the game, Rutgers leadoff hitter Payton Lincavage routinely popped out into left field for what looked to be the first out of the game. However, a pitching violation was called on Michigan State starting pitcher Alli Walker and Lincavage was awarded a ball instead of an out. She then worked the count up to 3-2 and blasted a home run into left field for a 1-0 lead.
Following that mishap, Walker was strong for the rest of the game despite being called a few more times for illegal pitches. She would be pulled from the game after 3.1 innings with two hits, one walk and one run surrendered on 56 pitches. Walker was replaced by sophomore Sarah Ladd, who would finish out the rest of the game.
“I’m talking this is nitpicky, but her toe does come up sometimes,” Head Coach Jacquie Joseph said. “It’s frustrating because we haven’t been called out here. So, we’ve played 13 games and didn’t get a call one time, so it's frustrating for me and the player.”
“But boy give Alli credit," Joseph said. "We were getting five and six outs an inning because we would get a pop-up, and illegal pitch, and we get a ground out, illegal pitch. But at some point, if they are focused in on that you just got to make a change.”
The Scarlet Knights added two runs in the fifth inning on a pair of two-out hits by Gabrielle Callaway and Kiersten Withstandley. Rutgers starting pitcher Izzy Berouty was fantastic through the first four innings, particularly doing a great job of staying poised with runners on base. But with the pitch count climbing, the Spartans’ batters started to make solid contact with a little bit of power too.
MSU was finally able to break Berouty in the fifth inning thanks to the eventual hero of the game, Kates, who slapped a single up the middle to score both freshman Zaquai Dumas and junior Mackenzie Meech.
The Spartans would then score one run in each of the final two innings to secure the one-run victory. Both runs came off of home runs, this first by freshman Marissa Trivelpiece in the sixth inning to tie the game at three.
Then the final home run, the walk-off, send-them-all-home (well at least for 30 minutes until game two), game-winner. It came on a 2-0 count on a delivery from Rutgers sophomore pitcher Ashley Hitchcock. The right-handed pitch was blasted into left field by Kates to cap off a 3-3 day from the plate.
“It felt great,” Kates said after game two. “It’s awesome to get my team up like that and obviously a great team win.”
“There’s no better feeling,” Joseph said. “There’s no better feeling to have that happen, whether you are the kid or you are the coach, to be at home and get a walk-off, it’s really almost the pinnacle. I was so happy for her.”
5th inning ambush leads MSU to a sweep
After a quick opening inning, Michigan State jumped out to a two-run lead in the second inning.
The bats then stayed relatively quiet for both teams until the 5th inning when Rutgers took the lead. Sophomore pitcher Ladd, who received the win in game two, gave up three runs, all of which were unearned, to give the Scarlet Knights a 3-2 lead.
MSU showed its resilience though and responded with a six-run offensive blitzkrieg in the bottom of the fifth inning. Redshirt freshman Jenae Wash had the highlight of the inning launching a two-run homer into left-center field.
The Spartans then tacked on two more insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning off of RBI singles from Kates and sophomore Camryn Wincher. Everyone from the top of the lineup to the bottom was contributing, showcasing some of the offensive depth that had been absent in previous games. Despite the 10 total runs, only two batters had at least two RBIs, Wash and Trivelpiece, who both finished with two runs batted in.
“We gain confidence from that, but it was huge because there was no panic from our kids, none,” Joseph said. "I can sniff it and I am telling you y'all don’t know me, but I let them have it yesterday. Let them have it and they just came right out and played. So that was awesome.”
Freshman Ashley Miller got the nod as the starting pitcher for Michigan State in game two and went two and third innings, giving up zero earned runs on three hits. Hitchcock came into the game in relief again in game two and was disastrously allowing six earned runs in just three innings and 30 pitches.
The Spartans and Scarlet Knights will wrap up the series Sunday at 1 p.m. before heading to Ann Arbor next weekend.
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