EVANSTON, Ill. - Michigan State softball saw its hopes of a Big Ten Tournament title come to an end on Friday, as third-seeded Iowa eliminated the Spartans in the semifinals, 13-4 in five innings. MSU finishes the season with a 27-29 mark, while the Hawkeyes (40-17) advance to the championship game Saturday at 1 p.m.
Kara Weigle went 2-for-3 with two RBI, and Jessica Bracamonte also had two hits in the game for MSU.
The Hawkeyes drew first blood with a three-hit top of the first. The Spartans got out of an early jam when Iowa had a runner on third and Summer Downs laid down a squeeze bunt, which rolled right to Lesley Noel, who was able to make the play to Caitlin Mahoney behind the plate to get the out at home plate. But a double and a walk would load the bases for Iowa, and Erin Riemersma converted on the two-out at bat with a two-RBI single to center field, giving Iowa the lead, 2-0.
The Spartans came out swinging in the bottom of the first, as Nikki Nicosia led off with a single down the right line. Kara Weigle followed with a perfect bunt, which she beat out to first for a hit as Nicosia moved to second. Bianca Mejia kept the pressure at the plate with a single to shallow center and loaded the bases. But Brittany Weil responded with three straight strikeouts of MSU's 4-5-6 hitters to retire the inning and leave three Spartans stranded. Michigan State failed to convert as Iowa maintained the 2-0 advantage after one inning.
Iowa took advantage of Michigan State's missed opportunities in the bottom of the first and errors in the top of the second with three hits for seven runs on two costly errors. Coach Joseph made a pitching change after the Hawkeyes scored three runs, bringing in Kelly Confer for Noel with the bases loaded and no outs. Confer gave up four runs before the Spartans could retire the inning, but the damage was large as Iowa took a 9-0 lead. Noel (15-19) suffered the loss for MSU.
Jessica Bracamonte and Traci Nicosia responded in the bottom of the second with back-to-back singles to lead off the Spartans' offensive effort. Two outs followed, but Weigle delivered with a double - her third of the year - to left-center field, scoring both Bracamonte and Nicosia as MSU inched back into the game with a pair of runs, but Iowa still led 9-2. The Spartans held off the Hawkeye offense in the third, and plated a run in the bottom of the inning after Iowa brought in Amanda Zust on the mound. Lindsey Hansen walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch on Bracamonte's at bat. Bracamonte roped out a double to left-center field driving in Hansen before Iowa wrapped up the inning as Traci Nicosia grounded out to third. The Spartans cut Iowa's lead to 9-3.
Iowa's bats came back to life in the top of the fourth, as Brown sent a lead-off solo homer over right field, extending the lead to 10-3. After Schuelke roped out a three-run homer to right field, MSU brought in freshman hurler Shae Bass in the circle as Iowa led 13-3 with two outs. After walking one Hawkeye, Iowa grounded back to Bass who made the play at first to Gina Mondo.
In the bottom of the fifth, Mejia kicked off the Spartans' surge to stay alive with a hard grounder to second base, where Chelsey Carmody let the ball bounce between her legs for a two-base error that sent Mejia to second. Abby Lincoln came in to run for Mejia. Karen Fox struck out looking before Mondo grounded out to first, but Lincoln advanced to third. Hansen singled up the middle to drive in Lincoln, helping to keep the Spartans alive. But a routine grounder to second ended the inning and the game, as Iowa clinched the 13-4 victory.