Michigan on Tap in Softball Home-and-Home
Michigan State readies for a home-and-home series with archrival Michigan. The Wolverines, No. 5 in this week's NFCA poll, host Friday's game at 6 p.m. at Alumni Stadium in Ann Arbor. The series shifts to East Lansing for the final two days of competition, as MSU hosts the Saturday and Sunday contests at Secchia Stadium.
UM has won 10 straight in the rivalry, and lead the all-time series against MSU by a 79-27 margin. The Wolverines hold a commanding 38-9 edge in games played in Ann Arbor, while MSU trails the series by a 13-37 edge when games are played in East Lansing.
Last year, the teams played a single game in Ann Arbor on Friday- a contest the Wolverines won, 21-2 - before playing a doubleheader in East Lansing on Sunday. UM won the first game 11-2, but needed extra innings to down the Spartans in the nightcap, as MSU fell 8-7 in eight innings.
MSU provides a radio broadcast of all softball games, both home and away, at www.spartansportsnetwork.com. Ken Friend will have the call, and will be joined in the booth for home games by Ali Grant, a four-year Spartan letterwinner (2009-12). In addition, Spartan Sports Network's 24/7 app allows listerners to hear all games carried by the network on their mobile devices.
Live stats will be available each game of the doubleheader via Gametracker. The Gametracker program has undergone an upgrade, allowing smartphone and tablet users to utilize it on their mobile devices. All links can be found for this weekend's games at www.MSUSpartans.com.
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MSU snapped a five-game skid on Wednesday when it split with Indiana in Bloomington. The Spartans won game one (5-3) behind a strong outing by freshman hurler Valerie Kaff, but the nightcap belonged to Indiana pitcher Meaghan Murphy, as she recorded a career-best 13 strikeouts. It was the most strikeouts in a game for MSU this season.
MSU's opponents have been the beneficiary of MSU's thinning pitching staff, which has just two healthy hurlers. Freshman Valerie Kaff threw 11.2 innings over the weekend, as well as first game of the Indiana DH; senior Kelly Smith threw a complete game on Sunday and also in the nightcap against the Hoosiers.
MSU has already had five games this season washed away due to weather, and one series had to be moved- the Purdue series was originally to be played in East Lansing but was moved to West Lafayette.
MSU (along with Wisconsin) has played 34 games, the third-fewest in the Big Ten; Iowa has played a league-low 28, and Northwestern 31. Purdue and Nebraska lead the league with 40 games played, while Indiana has 39.
MSU's 10-inning win over Toledo (3/15) is the longest game in the Big Ten this season. MSU's 30 putouts in that game is also a league-high this season, as is MSU's five sacrifice hits that it had against UNC-Wilmington on Feb. 22, and the six times MSU was hit by a pitch on April 5 vs. Penn State. Through 34 contests, MSU has had only two players appear in every game this season - the middle infield duo of 2B Jacquie Reiser and SS Destinee Luna. Lately, MSU has been hit by the injury bug, as head coach Jacquie Joseph has had to patch together lineups. Junior 1B McKinzie Freimuth returned in the OSU series after missing the previous five games, the first missed games of her career. Lindsey Besson has returned after missing the OSU series behind the plate, senior Dana Briggs returned vs. PSU after suffering a leg injury on the spring break trip, and junior Stephanie Sanders is just returning to right field after a leg injury limited her to pinch-hitting duty. However, the most affected group has been the pitching staff - sophomore Dani Goranson will not pitch this season (the coaching staff was hoping to have her back in action for B1G games), and freshman Kristina Zalewski was injured during the Purdue weekend and is now out for the remainder of the season.
MSU has played five extra-inning games this season, and lost the first four before breaking that streak on March 15 against Toledo. Three of the games went eight innings (Bethune-Cookman, and both against Florida Atlantic), while the SIU-Edwardsville game took nine innings, and the Toledo game 10.
MSU's 2014 schedule 12 games against six teams which appeared in this week's NFCA poll (April 8). MSU has already played single games against No. 19 Oklahoma, No. 10 Washington, and No. 25 Notre Dame. Still on tap is three-game series against Big Ten foes No.5 Michigan, No. 22 Nebraska, and No. 23 Northwestern. In addition, MSU has played two against Hofstra and one against Virginia Tech, both which sit just outside the top 25. Big Ten foe Minnesota is also ranked (No. 14), but is not on MSU's regular-season schedule this year.
Nineteen of MSU's 26 non-conference opponents finished fifth or better in their conference in 2013, and five are their defending conference champions. Washington and Oklahoma, as well as Big Ten foes Nebraska and Michigan, made the Women's College World Series. Four Big Ten teams received bids to the NCAA Tournament overall.
MSU's infield features mostly underclassmen, with the exception being junior 1B McKinzie Freimuth. The middle infield of Jacquie Reiser and Destinee Luna are sophomores, while Sarah Gutknecht (1B/3B), catcher Lindsey Besson, and two of MSU's three healthy pitchers (Valerie Kaff and Kristina Zalewski) are all freshmen. Four of MSU's five outfielders are juniors - Alyssa McBride, Carly Nielsen, Stephanie Sanders, and Ellie Stoffer - and left fielder Kassidy Kujawa is a first-year player.
Lindsey Besson (3-for-5, 2b, 2 RBI) and Stephanie Sanders (3-for-7, HR, 3 RBI) were MSU's top hitters against Indiana on Wednesday. Besson scored the go-ahead run in the sixth and knocked in two in the seventh in game one, while Sanders hit her first home run of the season - a two-run shot - in the nightcap.
Sanders hit .400 last weekend against Penn State with a pair of doubles and two RBI. One of those doubles (and both RBI) came as a pinch hitter. In game one of the series. On the season, the junior has had 14 pinch hit appearances and is 7-for-12 (.583) with 10 RBI. In the Big Ten, only Purdue's Katy McJunkin (7-for-10 (.700), 4 RBI) and Kelsey Susalla of Michigan (5-for-5, 3 RBI) are at the same level of proficiency as Sanders.
Valerie Kaff had a strong outing against the Hoosiers, earning her fifth win of the season. She pitching tossed a complete game, scattering seven hits, and fighting her way out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh to earn the victory.
Valerie Kaff ranks 10th in the league in innings pitched (99.0), and is eighth in starts (16). Among league pitching leaders, Kaff is second among freshmen in both innings pitched and starts - only Illinois' Brandi Needham (122.1 IP, 19 starts) has gotten the ball more than Kaff among first-year players in the league.
Sarah Gutknecht owns the team lead in hits (26), RBI (23), homers (6), doubles (8), slugging pct. (.515), plate appearances (115), and at-bats (101). She is third in batting average (.257) and second in walks (12), which included an intentional walk against the Hoosiers.
Gutknecht has played the most positions on the field of any player on the roster. She has logged games in right field, third and first base, in addition to being the designated player. She has played all of the Big Ten season, and the most games overall, at third base.
On the season, Kassidy Kujawa leads the team in batting average (.282), runs (15), and OBP (.408), while ranking second in hits (24), doubles (6), walks (13), and total bases (36).
Alyssa McBride's team-best active hitting streak came to an end at six games vs. Penn State, but she has had a hit in three of the last four games. She has reached base safely in 13 straight games, the team's longest active streak. Her eight walks in B1G play ranks fifth.
Junior Ellie Stoffer hit her second home run of the season on Saturday against Penn State, and she went 1-for-2 against the Hoosiers.
Spartan batters have been hit by pitches 39 times, the most in the league. Destinee Luna has been hit a team-high eight times, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten; McKinzie Freimuth has been plunked six times, which ranks 11th. She was injured on her most recent HBP against Marshall (March 7), which caused her to miss five games - the first games missed in her MSU career.
Both Sarah Bowling and Carly Nielsen delivered pinch hits in their lone at-bats against Indiana. Nielsen's was an RBI single.
McKinzie Freimuth continues to be one of the top-fielding players in the league. She made a career-best 13 putouts in game one vs. Indiana on Wednesday. She has missed five games this season with injury, and is just six putouts shy of ranking in the top 12 in the league in that category (she has 166 putouts.) She has just two errors in 172 chances - a fielding percentage of .988. She has also turned eight double plays, good for ninth in the league. Freshman Kassidy Kujawa committed her first error of the season vs. Indiana, with 58 putouts this season in 59 chances.
The Spartans lead the Big Ten in sacrifice bunts (37), 10 more than second-place Indiana. Jacquie Reiser set an MSU single-game record with four sacrifice hits in the 5-2 win over UNC-Wilmington on Feb. 21. Those four sacrifice bunts is the most by any Big Ten player in a game this season. Reiser's 11 sacrifice bunts this year is the most in the Big Ten, and ranks 22nd nationally. Reiser and Lindsey Besson each have four sac bunts in Big Ten play, which ranks in a tie for second.
Kelly Smith has been versatile for the Spartans this season, ranking seventh in the B1G in appearances (23), which includes 15 starts (T-9th) while entering eight games in relief (T-11th). Her two saves ranks fourth, and her 89 IP ranks 12th.
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