After getting upset by Western Michigan on Wednesday, the No. 20 Michigan softball team will try to bounce back against Michigan State (0-9 Big Ten, 11-27 overall) this weekend.

The Wolverines (8-1, 27-11) will travel to East Lansing this weekend to play a single game against the Spartans. The series will then conclude on Sunday back in Ann Arbor with a doubleheader.

Though Michigan State is winless in conference play, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins won’t let that deter her game plan and preparation.

“I think Michigan State plays up to the competition well,” Hutchins said. “They’ll be extremely hungry, and hopefully our kids don’t think it’s a gimme because they’re winless.”

Despite Michigan State’s will to win, the Spartans will have to overcome a glaring weakness in its pitching staff.

Michigan State possesses a 6.81 team ERA — more than two runs behind the next closest school, Indiana — while the Wolverines lead the Big Ten with a 1.96 ERA.

Sophomore Cassee Layne and freshman Carly Nielsen are the two pitchers who will most likely take the circle this weekend for the Spartans.

Layne has still made 20 starts for Michigan State this season, recording a 7.43 ERA. Due to such a high ERA, she has managed to throw just two complete games. In her latest start, against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Layne went one inning and gave up five runs. Nielsen relieved her and pitched the remainder of the game while only allowing one run.

Nielsen, who owns a 5.81 ERA this season, has started 12 games while posting a 3-11 record.

Things look better in the circle for the Wolverines’ two freshmen. Right-hander Sara Driesenga and left-hander Haylie Wagner have combined to pick up all but one of Michigan’s 27 wins this season, throwing 23 complete games and five shutouts between them.

The duo is a big reason why the Wolverines are on top of the Big Ten standings with an 8-1 record.

“They definitely work very hard and they need to continue to work to get better,” Hutchins said earlier this season. “They’ve done a nice job of picking each other up — they both had to come in and save each other, and I think they work very well together.”

Another reason for Michigan’s success has been the team’s ability to get extra-base hits — especially home runs. After hitting a season-high four home runs in last Friday’s game against Ohio State, the Wolverines are now tied for second in the conference in the category.

The two big bats for Michigan have been senior first baseman Amanda Chidester, who has seven home runs and 33 RBIs, and junior second baseman Ashley Lane, who leads the team with 10 home runs.

On the other hand, Michigan State ranks ninth out of 12 teams in the Big Ten in home runs with 14.

A bright spot in the Spartan lineup comes from their No. 2 batter, junior center fielder Kylene Hopkins, who leads the team in hits (44) and batting average (.411).

On paper, Michigan seems to have the upper hand in this weekend’s series, but following Wednesday’s shutout loss against Western Michigan, anything is possible.

“We need to show up and play our game and not worry who we’re playing and what their record is,” Hutchins said before Wednesday’s loss.

But after that game, Hutchins’ attitude on the Michigan State series changed.

“If they think they’re going to show up and win, they’re going to get their butts kicked,” Hutchins said.

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