Michigan State Softball Season Preview
Jan. 31, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. – After a promising fall season, Spartan head coach Jacquie Joseph is excited to see her team compete in 2013 as Michigan State welcomes back 13 letterwinners, including 10 players with starting experience, along with two starting pitchers.
“We are looking forward to kicking off the season,” said Joseph. “I’m very optimistic about this spring, we are ready right now to play an opponent other than ourselves. Preseason has gone very well. We are a young team but we have sophomores that were able to start a lot last year. We are young everywhere except left field, center field, and second base. I think our pitching has greatly improved since last year, which is an asset.”
“I feel really good about the infield with everyone back from last year,” said Joseph on this season’s infield lineup. “We were a strong defensive team last year; it was one of our greatest strengths and I expect that to continue this season.”
Sophomore McKinzie Freimuth earned the starting role as a freshman last season at first base and returns to the position this season.
“McKinzie is one of the best defensive first baseman we’ve ever had,” said Joseph. “The last truly great and natural player at first base was Natalie Furrow. Last year we asked McKinzie to concentrate on defense and after the success in that area we asked her to focus on hitting this season. McKinzie throws left-handed which makes getting the lead out easier.”
Senior Jenny Ramsaier has played second base since her freshman year and will continue her reign there. Last season she started in 44 games for the Spartans.
“Jenny is outstanding at second base and plays great defense,” said Joseph. “She has worked hard at learning the left side and she had a great fall hitting from the left. As a four-year starter, Jenny has tremendous leadership skills that she brings to the lineup. She is one of our rocks on the infield.”
Sophomore Alyssa McBride returns to shortstop after starting every game last season. McBride compiled a .200 average and collected 24 hits and five RBIs in 2012.
“Alyssa has a great arm and great range,” said Joseph. “We just expect her to play a little calmer and contribute more offensively her sophomore year. Alyssa has great athleticism and has much improved from last year. I think this year she will continue to improve with her hitting which will help her offensive output.”
Senior Jayme O’Bryant will hold the third base position after owning the fifth-highest batting average on the team last season at .266. O’Bryant was one of five on the 2012 roster to start in every game. Freshman Shanin Thomas played third base in the fall and will play back up for O’Bryant.
“We are expecting Jayme to be a little more consistent,” said Joseph. “We are also expecting more out of her offensively. As a senior she has a lot of experience under her belt which is helpful for our infield. Jayme is also very competitive and bleeds Green and White; she is a very passionate player.”
“Destinee is a really solid player and has a lot of talent coming in her freshman year,” said Joseph. “She shows ability at three different positions: shortstop, second base and outfield. Destinee also swings left, giving her another talent. I am really happy with her performance at the position.”
First-team All-Big Ten selection Kylene Hopkins returns to center field after a phenomenal junior year. She ranked second in the Big Ten with a .397 batting average, which also tied for fifth in MSU single-season history. Hopkins also led the team in hits (62), doubles (15), RBIs (24) and on-base percentage (.472).
“Kylene was one of the best players last season and is an experienced center fielder,” said Joseph. “She is a great player but she is going to have her work cut out for her as the outfield develops, as she is the only one to return there. Kylene was raised with her father as a minor league ball player, so she was raised in an environment that was very competitive. Her number one trait is that she is very tough. She also recovers quickly from any failures she has, which makes her a real gamer. She is very hardnosed and tough on the field, and is a great asset to our lineup.”
Junior Sarah Bowling played left field in the fall, and while she was new to the position, she proved hard work could go far. Last season she compiled a .247 batting average and tallied four home runs for the Spartans, which tied for the team lead.
“Sarah has the nod in left field,” said Joseph. “She has worked very hard for the position and ended up doing a nice job. She still has a ways to go but her offensive potential is huge and her being able to play outfield helps create another opportunity to get an additional hitter in the lineup. Sarah is strong and powerful – she has a huge upside.”
“Stephanie and Ellie each bring something a little different to the team,” said Joseph. “They both make the pitchers better and during preseason we have an opportunity for both of them to get a lot of time. Both of them are quality hitters and while one will see more catching time, the other one will see time in the outfield.
“Stephanie is ahead of schedule on recovering – I would say she is fully recovered,” continued Joseph. “Ellie is becoming a lot more confident behind the plate and is mentally tough. She also has great arm strength.”
Junior Emma Fernandez will be a utility player for Michigan State. Her main duty will be preparing the pitchers as a bullpen catcher.
“All four of our pitchers are working very hard,” said Joseph about this year’s pitching staff. “They all contrast in styles which I think will make for a nice staff. Kelly Smith and Dani Goranson tend to pitch more north and south while Cassee Layne and Carly Nielsen pitch more east and west. This makes for nice compliments on the mound that we can intermix and interchange. I think we are a lot deeper and the talent level on the mound is greatly improved. Ultimately, I feel really good about where we are at.”
Smith spent one year (2012) at McLennan Community College in Texas and compiled a 16-10 record with a 1.11 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 170 2/3 innings pitched. She also spent one year at Southern Mississippi in 2011 and owned a 2-3 record with a 3.66 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings pitched.
“With Kelly as a junior and a transfer, she has a wealth of experience,” said Joseph. “She is a seasoned pitcher and she knows what to do, she does not get rattled. She really brought a sense of calmness and experience to the mound this fall and preseason.”
Goranson was a four-year letterwinner in high school and named an NFCA All-American second-team selection in 2011. She won 83 games on the mound at Elk Grove High School, including a career-high 29 victories as a junior.
“Dani is a freshman who comes to Michigan State with a great high school and club career,” said Joseph. “We are expecting big things from her. She throws hard and spins the ball well. The question will be, can she learn to throw against nine good hitters, instead of in high school when you only face one or two. It will be a mental adjustment for her that I think she can handle.”
Layne (5-16) led the team with 25 starts last season and struck out 82 batters in 133 innings pitched, while Nielsen (3-19) started in 20 games and threw 130 1/3 innings.
“Cassee can be the biggest surprise in a positive way if she excels during her junior year, like many pitchers do,” said Joseph. “She’s had a lot of highs and a lot of lows so if she can flatten out and become more consistent mentally, she could have a breakout year. Carly got thrown into the fire last year, but she had a great fall and has a tremendous upside as a hitter. The great thing about Carly is that she will take anything we throw at her. She is athletic, tough and just needs the confidence she had before last season.”
"The schedule this year provides us exactly what we need," said Joseph. "We have a good mix of highly regarded teams and teams which will help us prepare for the Big Ten season. This season also marks the return of the Big Ten Tournament. With the Big Ten Network committing to the semifinals and final games, this should be a great showpiece for our conference."
Opening Day at Secchia Stadium is set for Wednesday, March 20 vs. Western Michigan at 4 p.m. That contest opens a season-long seven-game homestand, as the Spartans will begin Big Ten play against Penn State (March 22-24) and Indiana (March 29-31). MSU will also play Illinois (April 26-28) at home. Games with Michigan will be split with one game in Ann Arbor (April 12) and two games in Spartan territory (April 13-14).
MSU will face Purdue (April 5-7), Minnesota (April 19-21), Ohio State (April 24), and Wisconsin (May 3-5) on the road.
In addition to facing Western Michigan at home, the Spartans will also take on Central Michigan (April 9), Notre Dame (April 16) and Eastern Michigan (May 1) at Secchia Stadium.
The Spartans open the season with four games at the Stetson Leadoff Classic (Feb. 8-10) in DeLand, Fla. MSU will play both Stetson and South Carolina twice in the tournament.
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