EVANSTON, Ill. - Michigan State softball (27-28) upset the No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (48-6) by a 2-1 score on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament's opening game at Northwestern's Sharon J. Drysdale Field. The seventh-seeded Spartans, now 3-3 against Michigan in postseason games, will play the winner of Friday's morning game between third-seeded Iowa and sixth-seeded Illinois. Lesley Noel pitched the entire game, and gave up just a single run en route to MSU's upset. The MSU win eliminated the second-seeded Wolverines from the conference tournament.
"We played perfect softball," said head coach Jacquie Joseph. "We caught them a little flat-footed, we executed first, we executed often, and we pitched exceptionally well. We had the kind of effort we needed to have to beat a great team like Michigan. Michigan is a great team and will go a long way in the postseason. We did everything we needed to do to be successful, and I couldn't be happier with our effort."
Nikki Nicosia, an All-Big Ten First Team selection, opened the first inning with an infield single, and Kara Weigle followed in the next at bat, beating out a sacrifice bunt to first base as Dorian Shaw missed the tag. Bianca Mejia grounded out to third, but Nicosia and Weigle advanced, putting two Spartans in scoring position early for MSU. After a strikeout and ground out, the Spartans left two on base after threatening to take an early lead.
The Spartans easily retired Michigan in the first inning with three quick outs.
Lindsey Hansen roped out a double to right center to lead off the second inning, and Jessica Bracamonte put down a sacrifice bunt, but a throwing error by Michigan's third baseman Maggie Viefhaus gave Hansen an easy slide into third and plenty to time to advance home. Bracamonte rounded the bases and slid safely into third. The Spartans continued to push for early runs, as Coach Joseph called for a squeeze bunt by Traci Nicosia to bring Bracamonte to the plate, but Nemitz flipped the ball to catcher Roya St. Clair in time, tallying the inning's first out for Michigan. Quick infield outs on the ensuing at bats left Traci Nicosia stranded as the Wolverines controlled the Spartans' early damage as MSU took a 1-0 lead.
After Michigan drew two walks around an ground out in the bottom of the second, Bianca Mejia made an impressive stop on a hard chopper from Dorian Shaw at short, and got the forced out at third to tally the second out. Gina Mondo fielded an easy grounder to second to retire the inning, and Wolverines were left on base.
Offensive pressure from the Spartans forced Michigan's head coach Carol Hutchins to make a pitching change heading into the third inning, sending Jordan Taylor to replace Nemitz. Taylor struck out one batter, and infield outs retired the inning despite Caitlin Mahoney's single to shallow left center. The Spartans held onto their lead 1-0.
Carrying a no-hitter heading into the bottom of the third, Noel walked lweadoff hitter Teddi Ewing, who stole second before two Wolverines grounded out. With Ewing in scoring positon, Noel maintained her no-hitter by striking out Angela Findlay, and kept the Spartans' one-run lead.
Viefhaus sent a home run over the left-centerfield wall to erase Noel's no-hitter, and also tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth. The Spartans had one out on the board before Viefhaus sent the solo homer over the fence. The hit was the only action of the inning, as Michigan wrapped up the inning with ground outs to Mejia at shortstop.
After limited action through the third and fourth innings, the Spartan bats again came to life and Nikki Nicosia and Weigle picked up singles in the top of the fifth. Nicosia singled up the middle, while Weigle grounded into Taylor's legs in the circle and beat out the throw to first. Mejia singled to short on a fielder's choice, as Weigle was out at second. But an interference call on Weigle's slide into second required Nicosia to stay at third. Nicosia was well on her way home, and was therefore called out on the play as Michigan dodged an MSU run and ended the half inning.
The Wolverines put runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, and as Angela Findlay reached first on a strong single to left field. Weigle made a perfect throw to Mahoney, who tagged out Alessandra Giampaolo who was trying to score from second base. The play ended the inning and kept the score at 1-1.
Mahoney walked to open the sixth inning, and Mondo grounded out to the shortstop, advancing Mahoney to second. After a strikeout, Bracamonte came up with a two-out, RBI single to left field, and Mahoney rounded third and crossed home as Michigan State reclaimed the lead, 2-1. Traci Nicosia grounded out to the shortstop to end the inning, and put the Wolverines to work at the plate.
The Spartans chalked up two outs on the first two batters of the bottom of the sixth, but Nemitz singled and Shaw walked to put pressure on Michigan State. But again, MSU halted the Wolverine's drive as St. Clair grounded out to end the inning.
After two outs in the top of the seventh against the Spartans, Kara Weigle singled to center field, but a UM first baseman, Shaw, ran down Mejia's foul fly ball near the Michigan dugout and made the catch to end the top of the seventh.
In a must-score situation, UM's Ewing grounded out to Traci Nicosia at third base, then a fly out to sister Nikki Nicosia in center and pop up to Mondo ended the game and advanced the Spartans to Friday's 3 p.m. game against the winner of the Iowa-Illinois game.