Michigan State softball coach Jacquie Joseph said her team enters the Big Ten tournament feeling confident after winning eight of their last nine regular-season games and likes where her offense is entering the postseason.
The Spartans (24-25) are the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Nebraska in a first-round tournament game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Wisconsin's Goodman Diamond. Michigan State reached the semifinals last year. The winner will face top-seeded Michigan on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
“I don’t think it could be going any better for us than it is right now,” Joseph said Wednesday on the Big Ten conference call. “We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. We’ve been practicing outside. We’re a little banged up but nobody is out of the lineup. We’re just really looking forward to our first-round game with Nebraska.”
The teams faced each other in March and Nebraska won the series, 2-1. But Joseph knows the Spartans were able to score on the Cornhuskers and with a more settled lineup these days, she feels confident about the first-round game.
“We scored a lot of runs, we scored 21 runs in three games, so we feel pretty good about it,” Joseph said of the series with Nebraska. "But every game is different. If we come out and our pitcher is doing well in the first inning, I think it’s going to go a long way for us. But each game is so different. Hopefully we can get off to a good start and not get behind.”
The Spartans started slowly this season but finished with what Joseph called their “best ball” of the season.
“We have high expectations going up to Madison,” Joseph said, referring to host Wisconsin. “We know we’ve got a tall order. Anybody that didn’t get a bye has a tall order. Four games in four days will be something we haven’t done since early March. I just feel like in terms of how you’d want to be going into the tournament, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Joseph credits the Spartans’ improved play in part on finally finding a lineup that works.
“We’re really starting to swing the bats a little bit better,” she said. “We’re playing a lot better on defense than they were earlier in the year and I think we’re feeling pretty good about where we are as an offensive lineup.
“I have probably used a different lineup almost every game. These last 10, 12, 15 games, we’ve sort of settled into specific roles and a consistent lineup. I think that helps the players understand where they fit in the team offense mindset. Just having the opportunity to work out and practice, that’s helped us jell.”
Big Ten softball tournament
At Madison, Wis.; all games on BTN
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Purdue, noon
No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 Maryland, 2:30 p.m.
No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Nebraska, 5:30 p.m.
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Iowa, 8 p.m.
No. 2 Minnesota vs. Wisconsin-Purdue winner, noon
No. 3 Indiana vs. Illinois-Maryland winner, 2:30 p.m.
No. 1 Michigan vs. Michigan State-Nebraska winner, 5:30 p.m.
No. 4 Northwestern vs. Ohio State-Iowa winner, 8 p.m.
Minnesota_Wisconsin-Purdue winner vs. Indiana_Illinois-Maryland winner, 2 p.m.
Michigan_Michigan State-Nebraska winner vs. Northwestern_Ohio State-Iowa winner, 4:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.