'They wouldn’t quit': MSU shocks UM in Big Ten tourney
Ann Arbor — Michigan State softball coach Jacquie Joseph said her team needed a signature win to push the program onto the national stage.
The seventh-seeded Spartans got that Friday afternoon, rallying for three runs in the top of the seventh to upset No. 2 seed Michigan, 5-4, in a Big Ten quarterfinal game at Alumni Field. Michigan is hosting the Big Ten tournament.
Michigan State will play in the semifinals against Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday with a chance to advance to the championship game at 6 p.m.
Michigan has long dominated the Spartans, who last beat the Wolverines, 2-1, on May 9, 2009. The Wolverines saw their 36-game home winning streak stopped. They had been 17-0 at Alumni Field this season.
U-M coach Carol Hutchins had said earlier in the week that beating Michigan State would be tough. She saw in April, even after sweeping two games, that the Spartans were on the rise.
“Such an improved program, and they’re going in such a great direction,” Hutchins said. “They got it done tonight. They wouldn’t quit, and they were tough one through nine. Things went their way, balls fell their way. It was their turn. It was their turn.
“Congratulated them and I told them to win the whole thing.”
Hutchins said there is room for two strong programs in the state.
“To quote one of my favorite coaches, Tom Izzo,” Hutchins said, referencing the MSU men’s basketball coach, “there’s room for two great teams in this state.”
The Spartans had to rally to beat Indiana in the first round and were confident heading into the quarterfinal against Michigan. Joseph, who earned her 800th career victory, said her program needed a signature win and the Spartans got it. Michigan, the 2005 national champion, has made 12 World Series appearances, including the past two seasons. The Wolverines were national champion runners-up in 2015.
“Anytime you can beat a team that’s consistently, perennially a top-10 team in the country and to win at their place with the crowd, I thought our kids showed tremendous poise,” Joseph said. “It’s a very difficult place to play. If you watch the game, our kids were really unfazed, and that’s not an easy thing to do.
“It’s a big program win, no question.”
Michigan will await its NCAA Tournament destination — Hutchins is certain the Wolverines will have to travel instead of hosting a regional — during the Sunday night selection show.
It was a tough outing for Michigan’s All-American pitcher Megan Betsa. She entered the game leading the country with 370 strikeouts and was third nationally averaging 12.5 per seven innings, but she had six against the Spartans.
“Megan is one of the best pitchers in the country, and even great players have bad days,” Hutchins said. “I didn’t think she had a good day. But the key in life, you have to recover from your adversity, and you only control what you control and nobody knows that better than her. I expect she’ll recover.”
The Wolverines looked like they had taken control after building a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning on a two-run single by Faith Canfield that scored Kelly Christner and Abby Ramirez.
But Michigan State, which lead 2-0 after the third inning, wasn’t done against the Wolverines. Michigan State whittled away at the lead, tying the game on Kelcey Carrasco’s run-scoring single, then Kaitlyn Eveland gave the Spartans the 5-4 lead on an RBI single to highlight a three-run seventh.
Michigan stranded Abby Ramirez at second in the bottom of the seventh.
Carrasco, a freshman, had been 0-10 against Betsa. In their last game, Carrasco went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. Her first two at-bats on Friday, Carrasco struck out swinging both times
“And my coach was like, ‘Stay in it. Stay in the fight. We’re going to get her. We’re going to get her,’ ” Carrasco said, adding they changed her swing before the third at-bat. “I had a good feeling about that last at-bat, especially with the 3-0 count. Coach gave me the green light. It was so sweet getting that hit. So awesome, so amazing — 0-for-10, who cares? That was probably one of the most memorable hits I’ll ever have in my career, and it’s only my freshman year. Many more to go.”
For the Spartans, the win reminded them of all their hard work during the season.
“As a junior, this win means so much because we’ve seen the program, how much it’s taken to grow and how much work we’ve put in,” said pitcher Bridgette Rainey. “To see this result is just so exciting and humbling. It just sets a whole new standard for our program.”
Said Lea Foerster, whose single in the seventh scored the first of the three-run rally: “This whole year we’ve been so close. We kept saying it after we’d lose close games to really good teams, ‘Guys, we’re so close, we’re so close. This win shows that we’re not close anymore, but we’re there. And like Kelcey said, we’re not done yet.”
The Wolverines, who Hutchins said might have put too much pressure on themselves to win at home on Friday, will practice on Sunday and prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
“We all really wanted it, and sometimes when you want it too much it’s a negative thing,” said senior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano. “We have to get to back to understanding that we have to take it one pitch at a time. As long as we have that one pitch, it’s never over.”
Big Ten tournament
Where: Wilpon Complex / Alumni Field, Ann Arbor
What: 12-team single-elimination, winner earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Television: BTN will broadcast every game.
Game 1 -- No. 8 seed Northwestern 6, No. 9 seed Purdue 1
Game 2 -- No. 12 seed Penn State 5, No. 5 seed Nebraska 0
Game 3 -- No. 7 seed Michigan State 8, No. 10 seed Indiana 7
Game 4 -- No. 6 seed Wisconsin 3, No. 11 seed Iowa 0
Game 5 -- No. 1 seed Minnesota 5, Northwestern 1
Game 6 -- No. 4 seed Illinois 3, Penn State 0
Game 7 -- Michigan State 5, No. 2 seed Michigan 4
Game 8 -- No. 3 seed Ohio State 3, Wisconsin 2
Game 9 -- Minnesota vs. Illinois, 1
Game 10 -- Michigan State vs. Ohio State, 3:30
Game 11 -- Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 6