EAST LANSING, Mich. (BVM) — Michigan State sure looked like they were ready for conference play to start Tuesday afternoon.
The Spartans (16-10) hosted the Central Michigan Chippewas (11-12) and won through a mercy rule in the sixth inning by a score of 8-0.
Ashley Miller led the way for the Spartans, dealing five shutout innings and only allowing four hits while striking out five. Sarah Ladd pitched an additional inning in relief allowing no runs, one hit and striking out two.
Miller’s day did not start how she wanted it to, though. CMU’s Abbey Tolmie singled on the second pitch of the game and Shannon Stein, who leads the Chippewas with eight home runs on the campaign, doubled on a 2-1 pitch to left field the next at bat.
However, Miller’s brilliance quickly came through. She’s dominated thus far in the season, sporting a 0.65 ERA which is currently best in the Big Ten. Miller composed herself after allowing the first two batters to reach safely and forced a weak grounder, a nasty strikeout, and then another groundout to end the inning unscathed.
“Obviously that wasn’t how I was expecting to start the game,” Miller said. “I told myself OK, it happens sometimes, I know my defense has my back so I just had to throw it in there and I didn’t think much of it since I wasn’t really worried.”
Head coach Jacquie Joseph, now in her 29th season with the Spartans, shared the same sentiment as Miller.
“She [Miller] really wasn’t sharp early,” Joseph said. “But she dialed it in and got out of that first inning. That first inning could’ve been a two or three spot and changed the entire dynamic of the game. Instead, she ramps it up and gets out of it, and the energy and momentum goes back to us. So that was a pivotal moment in the game.”
Following the strong closing performance from Miller in the top half of the first, the Spartans were able to take advantage of a walk drawn by Jessica Mabrey by bringing her home through a double to right field hit by Camryn Wincher. The Spartans would take a 1-0 lead and never look back.
After a walk to lead off the top of the second inning, Miller went on to retire the next nine batters she faced. The Spartans would add a couple more runs in the third to bring their lead to 3-0, thanks to RBI knocks by Alexis Barroso and Mackenzie Meech.
Perhaps the biggest turning point of the game was in the top of the fifth inning. Miller gave up her first hit since the first inning to Alyssa Hollo to lead off the inning. However, Miller was able to force a double play in the next at bat.
CMU was able to string together a two-out rally in the fifth by having Sammi Mills reach on a walk and allowing a single from Tolmie, bringing the tying run to the plate in Stein. The power-threat Stein was overmatched by Miller though, as Miller struck her out swinging on a 1-2 pitch.
The Spartans carried this momentum into the bottom half of the inning, scoring four more runs and expanding their lead to 7-0. Taking advantage of some wild pitches and walks, Michigan State nearly pushed their lead to eight, which would have ended the game due to mercy rules.
Ladd relieved Miller and continued the fantastic pitching that MSU had all game. In the bottom half of the sixth, Ladd’s sister, Caitie, hit a game–winning sacrifice fly to score Wincher and end the game with a final score of 8-0.
“We did what we needed to do with these non-conference tune ups,” Joseph said. “We’re pitching pretty well, scoring enough runs and playing some pretty good defense. I couldn’t be happier going into conference play.”
Central Michigan falls to 11-12 after this loss and looks to rebound against Ball State (7-16) on Friday.
The Spartans begin conference play by looking to build on their current five-game win streak, traveling to Evanston on Friday to go against a tough Northwestern team that currently sits at 19-4 on the season. The Wildcats are currently on a nine-game win streak, and both teams are playing at a high level.
“Northwestern is really good top to bottom,” Miller said. “Limiting free passes will help us a lot, but honestly if our team can play like we did today I think we can surprise some people in the Big Ten. I think we’re kind of underrated. Our defense has played great, our hitting has been looking great, I think we can really show people that we can be good this year.”
The series between the two should be a fun and competitive clash. The Spartans will look to ride their momentum from Tuesday into Big Ten play and carry it throughout the rest of the season.