Sticky, suffocating heat and an inconsistent sprinkle of rain overcast East Lansing on Wednesday when the Michigan State softball team (21-20, 1-9 Big Ten) took the field against the Western Michigan Broncos (14-23) and managed to pull ahead in their historical, and tied, overall series on a 6-4 win. This was Michigan State Head Coach Jacquie Joseph's 750th win with the green and white in her 29th season.
“It's a good thing,” Joseph joked after the game. “It's better than 749, so I'll take it.”
Sophomore pitcher Ashley Miller brought her A-game to the mound, reeling in three strikeouts on three batters faced in the top of the first inning alone. She went on to almost strike out the Broncos in the top of the second inning as well but fell short when a bunt was hit between her legs and freshman pitcher Jordan Kavanagh managed to book it to first base.
The same happened in the top of the third inning, putting MSU up to bat for the third time in the game. With junior Kennedy Wyllie on third base after a sacrifice from senior outfielder Jessica Mabrey, senior outfielder Courtney Callahan knocked one out of the park. For the first time in her fourth season with the green and white, Callahan hit a home run, bringing herself and Wyllie home for a 2-0 lead.
The fourth inning reverted back to the same narrative, Miller collecting her eighth, ninth and, you guessed it, 10th strikeouts of the night in just four batting appearances. Her career high is 14 strikeouts in one night, set on March 4 at Elon in the preseason.
The bottom of the fourth inning was the biggest for the Spartans of the evening when Mabrey hit a double down the left-field line to circle around to Wyllie for the second time and sophomore infielder Zaquai Dumas.
Mabrey was unable to make it home even when freshman catcher Macy Lee pinch hit for junior infielder Camryn Wincher and sacrificed a ground out to first base. The Spartans were up four heading into the fifth and Miller had collected the 11th strikeout for 1.34 earned run average, or ERA.
The Spartans missed the cut for a mercy ruling when they failed to bring anyone in during the bottom of the fifth inning and Miller was swapped out for freshman pitcher Faith Guidry in the top of the sixth.
Miller ended the evening with one hit and 11 strikeouts on 16 batters faced and 64 total pitches thrown.
“She was just lights out,” Joseph said. “That was the outing that Miller needed, that was just what the doctor ordered going into Wisconsin.”
Not to fear, however, because Mabrey did it again, hitting a double in the bottom of the sixth to bring home senior catcher Kendall Kates and senior outfielder Abby Joseph, who advanced on a wild pitch, for a 6-0 lead.
It wasn't over there, though, as Callahan walked to second and Mabrey advanced to third on another wild Bronco pitch. With only one out and Lee walking to first, the Spartans had the chance to clean the bases as sophomore infielder Marissa Trivelpiece stepped up.
The Spartans were led offensively by Mabrey, who went 3-for-3 on plate appearances, batted in three runners and knocked two doubles.
“She had a day,” Joseph said. “We came to play. Jess was big, Kennedy (Wyllie) was big, Courtney Callahan came up big. Three big-time hits at the right time and we needed it. I'm real happy with the win.”
“I was just trying to come out here and have some fun, hit the ball hard, see the ball deep and give it my best shot,” Mabrey said. “If it worked out, well obviously it did, but that was my overall goal, just to help my team out and give them some confidence up there.”
They failed to do so and it bit them in the butt.
On Sunday, following their 0-3 weekend against Nebraska, Joseph said that when you disrespect the game, it will disrespect you back – that became evident tonight when WMU managed to come back in the top of the seventh with four runs off Guidry. Joseph quickly swapped out Guidry for junior pitcher Sarah Ladd, who collected one strikeout right away like nobody's business to push the Spartans into their anticipated win.
“I think Faith got behind in a couple of those counts and then she plated a couple of balls a little too well,” Joseph said. “It just goes to show you ... when you don't hit your spot or you miss a dead red, they're going to hit. Faith didn't have a great outing, I've seen her do better and I'm sure she's disappointed, but she's going to work at it and get back in it.”
The Spartans advance 21-20 on the season and will head to Wisconsin (20-11, 5-4 Big Ten) for a three-game, weekend conference series beginning Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Big Ten Plus. Joseph hopes to take this momentum into Madison, Wisconsin.
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