Madison, Wis. — The worst disasters hit without warning.
Indeed, the first inning of Friday’s Big Ten tournament quarterfinal went off without a hitch. Freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien looked like the ace she’d been all year, striking out the first two Michigan State batters and working around a single for a quick third out.
But the next inning, the wheels came off, and the No. 16 Michigan softball team began careening toward catastrophe — a 7-0 loss to that marked UM's second quarterfinal exit to in-state rival MSU for the second straight year.
MSU (26-25) advances to play the winner of the Northwestern-Iowa quarterfinal, which was postponed until 11:30 a.m., in a semifinal at 4:30 p.m.
“Everything (went wrong),” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We didn’t pitch well, we … hit one or two balls well, and we just — it just steamrolled.”
It started with a leadoff double from the Spartans' Kaitlyn Eveland, who went 2-for-2 and scored two runs. After two quick outs, it seemed like Beaubien would get out of the jam, but the bottom of the order came up and she couldn’t get them out. A hit-by-pitch and walk loaded the bases for the Spartans’ leadoff hitter, Lea Foerster.
Again, it appeared Beaubien might be able to escape. She induced a swinging strike two on a devastating change-up, but Foerster wouldn’t go away. She fouled off pitch after pitch before knocking a single right past Beaubien. Two runs scored to give Michigan State the lead.
Foerster went 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs to lead the Spartans offense.
And while Beaubien had one of her worst outings of the season, the Spartans’ starter, Kristina Zalewski, had one of her best. Her change-up dove under bats and neutralized the Wolverines’ most dangerous hitters.
Zalewski (15-1) surrendered three hits and walked three while striking out 10 in seven innings.
“We worked really hard this week on … offense,” Hutchins said. “They were really good at it. But they don’t trust it in the game. They want to be comfortable.”
That desire for comfort led to the opposite, and as the game went on, Michigan (43-11) looked more and more like a team on the brink of defeat. The one time it seemed like the Wolverines might be able to get something going, junior center fielder Natalie Peters was called out for interference on what looked like a successful stolen base by junior second baseman Faith Canfield, and just like that, the rally was snuffed out.
The final blow came in the fifth, when Beaubien allowed the first five batters Spartans to reach base. She was pulled for freshman right-hander Sarah Schaefer, who stopped the bleeding — but not before MSU extended its lead to 7-0.
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Wolverines, did. Their ace suddenly couldn’t seem to get an out. Even their contact hitters were striking out. Their defense struggled with routine plays. Top-seeded Michigan looked out of its depth while the eighth-seeded Spartans looked like the juggernauts.
“You’ve gotta have discipline, you’ve gotta have heart and you’ve gotta really believe it,” Hutchins said. “And we have not shown that we do.”
Aria Gerson is a freelance writer.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
At Madison, Wis.; all games on BTN
No. 7 Wisconsin 8, No. 10 Purdue 0
No. 6 Illinois 5, No. 11 Maryland 3
No. 8 Michigan State 4, No. 9 Nebraska 3
No. 12 Iowa 5, No. 5 Ohio State 1
No. 2 Minnesota 6, Wisconsin 0
No. 3 Indiana 2, Illinois 1
No. 8 Michigan State 7, No. 1 Michigan 0
No. 4 Northwestern vs. Iowa, 11:30 a.m.
Minnesota vs. Indiana, 2 p.m.
Michigan State vs. Northwestern-Iowa winner, 4:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.