Softball Heads to Big Ten Tournament
May 5, 2014
Michigan State heads back to Evanston, Illinois for the Big Ten Tournament, where it will face Northwestern in the opening round. The teams play Thursday at 8 p.m. ET for the right to play No. 4 seed Wisconsin in Friday's quarterfinals.
Northwestern swept the Spartans in the final series of the Big Ten regular season last weekend (8-0, 9-1, 6-2).
Northwestern owns a commanding 72-29 lead in the all-time series, and MSU owns a 18-32 record in road games between the teams.
All softball games, both home and away, will have a live broadcast at www.spartansportsnetwork.com. Ken Friend will have the call, and will be joined in the booth by Ali Grant, a four-year Spartan letterwinner (2009-12). In addition, Spartan Sports Network's 24/7 app allows listeners to hear all games carried by the network on their mobile devices. Friend and Grant will have all the action from Evanston beginning at 7:50 p.m. on Thursday.
Live stats will be available 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 the game at www.MSUSpartans.com.
Thursday's first-round games will all air on the Big Ten Digital Network, which is available at MSUSpartans.com/allaccess (subscription required). Beginning with Friday's quarterfinals, all games will air live on the Big Ten Network.
TEN FOR TWITTER
.@MSU_Softball heads back to Evanston for the @B1GSoftball tourney; faces No. 5 seed @NUSBcats.
All @MSU_Softball games are on @Spartan_Radio (www.spartansportsnetwork.com) with @KFriend500 on the call.
All three games on Gametracker; software has been upgraded, now available on cell phones & mobile devices. Follow from links at MSUSpartans.com
.@MSU_Softball is 3-10 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament, with a title in 2004 as the No. 8 seed.
Spartans are 1-2 v. @NUSBcats all-time in B1G tourney. Teams met in 2003, 2004, and 2007.
.@Smith6Kelly's 315 career K's is 9th all-time at MSU. 42 of her 93 this yr are batters caught looking (3rd in B1G).
.@SarahBowin2 has hits in 5 of last 8 gms; was 2-for-4 vNU w/2 2B last weekend. Has reached base in 9 straight gms.
Top MSU hitter .@SarahGutknecht (.290, 25 RBI, 6 HR, 10 2B) has failed to get a hit in consec. gms just 3x this season.
.@mckinzie_mae one of top fielders in B1G; leads team w/.988 Fld%, 3 err.. Kujawa (.9887, 81 po, 1 err.) and @lindsebess (.981, 150 po, 3 err.) rank 2nd, 3rd.
Destinee Luna hit her first 3B, HR of the season v. Northwestern; went 2-for-6 in series.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT HISTORY
The first Big Ten Tournament took place in 1995, then was discontinued from 2009-12 before being reinstated in 2013. From 1982-1994 and from 2009-12, the Big Ten regular season champion earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. From 1995-2008 and beginning again in 2013, the Big Ten Tournament champion receives the automatic bid. From 1982-2003, the Big Ten Tournament was double-elimination format. Beginning with the reinstatement of the tournament in 2013, all 12 teams make the single-elimination tournament field.
This will be the fourth all-time meeting with NU in the league's postseason. The Wildcats own a 2-1 record in the previous contests, which includes an epic 18-inning affair in 2003 (a 1-0 Wildcat upset of the No. 3 seed Spartans.) In 2004, No. 8 seed MSU downed Northwestern 2-0 en route to the Big Ten Tournament title, and in 2007, Northwestern downed MSU 4-0 in the quarterfinals.
The only team MSU has played more than Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament is Michigan. MSU has played the Wolverines five times in the postseason affair, with a 1-4 record. MSU's win came in 2004, where the Spartans upset the top-seeded Wolverines in the first round of the eight-team tournament.
MSU won two of three games in Iowa City (April 18-20) to win its first-ever road series at Iowa, snapping a 14-game winning streak for the Hawkeyes in the series. It is the only series win of the season for MSU. MSU's opponents have been the beneficiary of MSU's thinning pitching staff, which has just two healthy hurlers. Senior Kelly Smith has thrown 40 innings over the last eight games, including a no-hitter vs. EMU on April 16. Valerie Kaff is second among freshmen pitchers in the Big Ten in both innings pitched and appearances.
MSU has already had five games this season washed away due to weather, and one series had to be moved- the Purdue series originally scheduled in East Lansing was moved to West Lafayette. In all, MSU was limited to just 10 home games this season.
Through 48 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. MSU has been hampered by the injury bug throughout the season, forcing head coach Jacquie Joseph to patch together lineups. McKinzie Freimuth returned in the OSU series after missing the first five games of her career. Lindsey Besson missed the OSU series as well as the last seven games behind the plate, senior Dana Briggs returned vs. PSU after suffering a leg injury on the spring break trip, junior Stephanie Sanders is just returning to right field after a leg injury limited her to pinch-hitting duty, and Kassidy Kujawa missed the series finale against Michigan with injury as well. 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 at Purdue and is out for the remainder of the season.
MSU's 2014 schedule featured 12 games against six teams which appeared in last week's NFCA poll (April 28). MSU has already played single games against No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 11 Washington, and No. 21 Notre Dame, as well as a three-game series against Big Ten foes No. 7 Michigan. No. 19 Nebraska, and RV Northwestern. In addition, MSU has played two against Hofstra and one against Virginia Tech, both which sit just outside the top 25. Big Ten foes Minnesota (No. 12) is also ranked and Wisconsin is receiving votes, but were 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 (3B), catcher Lindsey Besson, and two of MSU's four pitchers (Valerie Kaff and Kristina Zalewski) are freshmen, and Dani Goranson is a sophomore, but is redshirting this season. 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.
Senior Kelly Smith has been versatile for the Spartans this season, ranking seventh in the B1G in appearances (33), which includes 25 starts (8th) while entering eight games in relief, and her two saves ranks sixth. She is just outside the top 12 in strikeouts (93). Forty-two of her 93 K's were batters caught looking, which ranks third in the Big Ten.
Smith, with 315 career strikeouts, sits in ninth place on MSU's all-time list. Lesley Noel (2005-08) sits in eighth place with 318.
Smith (68.0) and Kaff (67.0) rank 10th and 11th in conference games in innings pitched. Only Wisconsin also has two pitchers ranked in the top 12.
Valerie Kaff is second among Big Ten freshmen in both innings pitched (137) and starts (20) - only Illinois' Brandi Needham (180.2 IP, 29 starts) has gotten the ball more than Kaff among first-year players in the league.
Kaff hit four batters in the May 3 loss to Northwestern, the most hit batters for a pitcher in the Big Ten this season. Overall, Kaff and Smith hit six in the NU series, while Spartan batters were hit just twice.
The top three hitters in the Spartan lineup are freshmen. Sarah Gutknecht owns the team lead in batting average (.290), hits (40), RBI (24), homers (6), and doubles (10); catcher Lindsey Besson is batting .270 with three doubles and nine RBI, while Kassidy Kujawa is hitting .246 with 13 RBI on 29 hits, which includes seven doubles and three homers.
Gutknecht went 3-for-8 in the Northwestern series, despite leaving game 2 after her first at-bat. She had a double and two RBI.
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.
Only three times this season has Gutknecht gone back-to-back games, and never three in a row, without a hit (all in the pre-conference season). She had at least a hit in 17 of 23 Big Ten games.
Senior Sarah Bowling has hits in five of the last eight games for MSU, going 5-for-12 (.417) in that stretch. She has reached base in her season-best nine straight games, four away from the team's best of 13 this season (Alyssa McBride). Bowling went 2-for-4 in the Northwestern series, both doubles.
Destinee Luna hit her first triple and home run of the season in the Northwestern series. She went 2-for-6 in the three games combined with one RBI.
Stephanie Sanders has had limited opportunities due to injuries this season, but is still batting .238 (fourth on the team) and is second on the team in RBI (17). Even when she couldn't play in the field, she went 7-for-12 as a pinch hitter with 10 RBI.
Spartan batters have been hit by pitches 54 times, the most in the league (Northwestern ranks second, with 52). Destinee Luna has been hit a team-high eight times, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten; Freimuth, Kujawa, and Jacquie Reiser have each been hit seven times; Kujawa has been beaned five times in B1G games, which ranks tied for fifth.
McKinzie Freimuth continues to be one of the top-fielding players in the league. She is just outside the league's top 12 in putouts (233), and has just three errors in 242 chances - a fielding percentage of .988. Kassidy Kujawa (.988, 81 po, 1 E) and Lindsey Besson (.981, 150 po, 3 E) rank second and third, respectively, on the roster in fielding pct. In Big Ten play, both Besson and Gutknecht boast a perfect fielding percentage (with 46 and 32 putouts, respectively), while Freimuth has two errors and 128 putouts (.985). In conference games only, Freimuth ranks ninth in putouts and 11th in chances.
MSU leads the B1G in sacrifice bunts (53), 11 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 are the most by any Big Ten player in a game this season. Reiser's 13 sac bunts this year are the most in the B1G and rank 16th nationally.
Alyssa McBride ranks seventh in the league in walks in conference games only (13).
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