Spartans use mid-game burst to finish off Maryland in six

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EAST LANSING, Mich — It was a cold and overcast day in East Lansing as Secchia Stadium played host to Michigan State and Maryland in softball. But the cold weather did little to cool down the Spartans’ bats as they cruised to a 11-3 victory over the Terrapins, ending the game in six innings.

“I give our kids a lot of credit,” said coach Jacquie Joseph. “I thought they showed a lot of toughness, especially given the conditions, they were less than ideal.”

The Spartans opened the scoring quickly in the bottom half of the first, taking a 3-0 lead. Centerfielder Lea Foerster extended her streak of reaching base safely to 24 consecutive games thanks to a lead-off walk. Then, first baseman Sarah Gutknecht and shortstop McKenzie Long pitched in with an RBI each.

“I have just been focusing on my mental game and taking it one pitch at a time,” said Foerster. “I am not trying to force anything, but letting the mental game come to me and then reacting as the pitch comes.”

Michigan State (17-11 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) held Maryland scoreless until the middle innings of the game. Maryland (7-24-1 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) had the bases loaded in both the third and fourth innings, but Michigan State’s starting pitcher Kristina Zalewski held Maryland to three runs. Zalewski improved to 2-3 on the season.

“We did what we needed to,” said Joseph. “We got a good starting pitching outing and then got great relief pitching from freshman Jordan Watson.”

It was not until the bottom of the fourth when Michigan State exploded for four runs. Ebonee Echols extended her 10-game hitting streak to 11 and loaded the bases. Echols’ streak is the longest for any Spartan this season.

“I try not to think about [the hitting streak]. I just try to keep working,” said Echols. “If I get a hit and start our offense rolling, that is all I am trying to do. Just trying to get on base for my teammates and have them score me.”

After third baseman Kaitlyn Eveland walked in a run for Michigan State, designated player Kelcey Carrasco hit a three-run double to right-center field, clearing the bases and busting open a 7-3 lead for the Spartans.

“Getting in the box before that at-bat, I was chipping balls and not making solid contact,” said Carrasco. “So going in I trusted my process and my hitting, and just tried to square one up and get one through. But I was just trusting our offense and I think that goes down to the bottom of it.”

Michigan State never looked back after that inning. The only worry came in the fifth inning. Echols had a hard collision with the tarp in foul territory out in left field and was slow to get up. After a few minutes and some medical attention, Echols got up and walked off the field under her own strength. Although she did not finish the inning, she did return to the game.

“I was scared to death. Because I saw it develop and I thought she hit her head,” said Joseph. “Then she didn’t move for a little bit and that really scared me. But that’s the type of player that Ebonee Echols is. She does not know how to not go hard.”

Overall, it was a convincing win for Michigan State, who will face Maryland tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. in the second of a three-game series. It also marks the Spartans’ first Big Ten win coming off of a three-game sweep at the hands of Purdue last week.

“I am so happy with how we played today,” said Foerster. “I thought that hitting, pitching and defense was awesome today. We worked really hard in practice this week. This is our first home series, so we really wanted to come out to this game and throw punches.”

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