As the top seed, the Big Ten Softball tournament was
Michigan’s to lose. But on Thursday night, Michigan State
— the tournament’s eighth seed and eventual champion
— knocked out the Wolverines in the opening round of the
tournament at Alumni Field on Thursday night.
After rain had delayed the first pitch by more than an hour, Big
Ten Pitcher of the Year Nicole Motycka retired the first nine
batters, all on ground ball outs. Motycka also gave the Wolverines
a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when singled in a run.
As the game headed into the fourth inning, Michigan State coach
Jacquie Joseph called on her team to make some adjustments at the
plate, and the changes turned the tide against the Wolverines.
“We talked about the adjustments we needed to make at the
plate to hit well on this night because the ground was very, very
soft,” Joseph said. “She was throwing ground balls for
a reason. Our kids made the adjustments, and it paid
Michigan State started the fourth with a string of hits, and an
error by Michigan junior Jessica Merchant allowed the Spartans to
even the game at 1-1. With two runners still on, Michigan State
third baseman Brittany Green crushed a three-run home run to put
the Spartans up for good.
“(Green’s home run) was totally the turning
point,” Michigan State starting pitcher Jessica Beech said.
“I think it shut them down and it brought us up so we knew we
had it. It was definitely the turning point in the game.”
Armed with a three-run lead, Beech and the Spartans were beaming
with confidence and cruised to victory over the deflated
Michigan Coach Carol Hutchins was disappointed that her team
seemed to have lost its fight.
“When you’re down four to one in a
(single-elimination) tournament, a lot of things go through your
mind,” Hutchins said. “But I was very unhappy that we
had no attack in us. We had a lot of innings left. I told them,
‘Try to chip away. We don’t have to get all the runs,
we just need to get a run.’ ”
Joseph credits her team with doing a great job of gearing up for
an opponent of Michigan’s caliber and suggests that the
Wolverines’ collapse may have been due to their seeding.
“I think if anything it shows what a negative effect
pressure has on athletes,” Joseph said. “They just felt
the pressure, and you can see what it did to them.”
Hutchins does have confidence that her players will recover for
the NCAA Central Regional, which the Wolverines will host next
weekend at Alumni field.
“You know what,” Hutchins said. “Kids bounce
back, and by next Thursday, they’ll be fine.”