Despite the howling 19 mph, winds coming in from the west, the soft drizzle of rain and the mid-March 41 degree temperature, Michigan State softball (6-10) managed to top Rutgers (3-13) in a 4-1 win that closed out the Spartans' four-game series with the Scarlet Knights.
Unlike Friday and Saturday's games, the Spartans found the lead early in the bottom of the first inning after Caitie Ladd cracked a home-run to right-center and they were able to hold onto it until the very end.
Caitie Ladd led the way for the Spartan batters, alongside Mackenzie Meech. Each went up to the plate a total of four times.
Her sister Sarah Ladd walked onto the mound in the sixth inning in substitution for Ashley Miller, immediately striking out three Scarlet Knights — including Kiersten Withstandley, Gabrielle Callaway and Anyssa Iliopoulos — back to back. She has thrown 18 strikeouts total and today she picked up her first save of the year, showing control and discipline in her second season.
"(The coaching staff) showed me they had confidence in me and that I was good enough to back up my team and do my job," Sarah Ladd said post game. "It was a mindset change, to get my head out of the gutter and come back even stronger for my team."
Miller was the starting pitcher. The freshman has gained a lot of momentum in her first season so far and only gave up one earned run on three hits today. She has thrown 47 strikeouts total, combining with Sarah Ladd for a total of 65.
Head Coach Jacquie Joseph said there are many reasons why she makes pitching changes. It could be because the team needs a different look on the defensive side, or a drop-ball kid. The reason she did it today was because Miller had been through the lineup twice and, while she was exceptionally effective, she had a kid that was "Mariano Rivera" in the bullpen and she knew they were dialed in.
"Our goal is to win the game, whether I use one pitcher, two pitchers, three pitchers or four pitchers if we win the game that's all that matters," Joseph said. "I thought they'd seen (Miller) enough ... and it was late in the game."
She said pitchers never want to come out, which she appreciates because that's what necessary to succeed in the position. But, she lives by the saying, "you can only control the controllables." She doesn't want them to try to understand her thought process, but rather follow along and go with the flow.
The fourth and fifth innings were where the magic happened, and the Spartans gained speed, breaking the short-lived 1-1 tie and cementing the final score of 4-1, thanks to Alexis Barroso, Jenae Wash and Laney Joyner.
"We really came together today," Wash said. "... We have a really talented group of girls on this team. We have so much potential. Like we saw today, if we keep playing like this, we'll win some big games."
The Spartans are scheduled to hit the road and park it in Ann Arbor on Friday, April 2, for the first of four games in another weekend series, this time against in-state rival Michigan (13-3). The Spartans went 3-1 over the weekend, their best stretch of the season.