EAST LANSING, Mich. - A three-run top of the seventh put the Spartans back in the game, but Michigan State softball's late rally was halted when Minnesota's Briana Hasslett threw a game-ending strikeout, as the Gophers (19-8, 2-0) took game two, 6-5, and claimed their Big Ten Conference opening series. The Spartans (14-15, 0-2) were paced by Caitlin Mahoney and Jessica LeFevre, who chalked up a pair of hits apiece, while four Spartans drove in runs.
Down 2-0 in the top of the fourth, Michigan State erased Minnesota's lead with two runs on one hit and one Minnesota error. Jessica Bracamonte scored for MSU when Kara Weigle's grounder tripped up the pitcher, Katie Dale, who failed to make the play at first. Bracamonte tagged home to put Michigan State on the board, and after Bianca Mejia walked, the Gophers made a change on the mound, bringing in Hasslett with the bases loaded. Hasslett's first pitch was a wild one, hitting Mahoney and driving in another MSU run. Minnesota managed to stop the bleeding as Gina Mondo popped out to the second baseman, but not before the Spartans tied the score, 2-2.
The Gophers regained momentum at the plate in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings, tacking up two runs in each, to take a 6-2 lead, which would hold on until the top of the seventh. Lesley Noel pitched through the first four innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits while striking out eight, and Kelly Confer finished the game for the Spartans, throwing the final two innings, giving up four hits while recording one strikeout.
Michigan State's bats returned to life as the Spartans put up three runs on four hits in their seventh-inning rally. Mahoney, Mondo and Traci Nicosia each singled, in that order, to load the bases for Heidi Purtzer. After fouling off the first pitch, Purtzer was hit by the next and took first base as each runner advanced, sending Mahoney home as MSU cut the Gophers' advantage to 6-3.
Abby Lincoln went in to pinch run for Purtzer as Bracamonte stepped up the plate. Bracamonte singled to right field, scoring Mondo, and after a strike out, Nikki Nicosia followed with a fielder's choice ground ball to second base, scoring Traci Nicosia. Bracemonte was out at second but Lincoln arrived safely at third. With runners at the corners, Weigle battled through a six-pitch, 1-2 count at bat, staying alive with three fouled balls. But Hasslett came up with the game-ending strikeout, helping Minnesota hold off MSU's rally.
The Spartans will continue Big Ten action Sunday, March 30 when they host Wisconsin at Old College Field. Game one of a scheduled doubleheader will begin at 12 p.m.