Spartans Pitch Two Shutouts

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Michigan State got some big hitting from its underclassmen and strong performances in the circle from its pitching staff in posting a pair of shutouts on Sunday, sweeping a doubleheader from Rhode Island (0-3) at the Stetson Leadoff Classic. MSU improves to 2-1 on the season, winning game one by a 5-0 score, and earning a 9-0 win in five innings in the nightcap.

Senior Kelly Smith and freshman Kassidy Kujawa were named to the All-Tournament Team. In game one on Sunday, Smith pitched a complete-game shutout while posting eight strikeouts, sending down five batters looking . On the weekend, she threw 11 innings, posting a 1.91 ERA with 14 strikeouts, while scattering nine hits and walking just two. Kujawa, making her collegiate debut this weekend, went 4-for-5 with two homers in the doubleheader, and was walked by the Rams in her two final at-bats. On the weekend, she hit .571 with four RBI.

Both sophomore Shanin Thomas and freshman Sarah Gutknecht also homered for MSU; Gutknecht in the seventh inning of game one, while Thomas rocked a grand slam in the top of the fourth of game two to help put the game out of reach for URI. It was the first collegiate homer for both.

In game one, MSU took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, which was all it would need with Smith in command in the circle. No. 2 McKinzie Freimuth singled, and two batters later Kujawa homered to left center. Pitcher Marylynn Muldowney walked Stephanie Sanders and Thomas, then Destinee Luna singled to advance both runners. Freshman Lindsey Besson came up next, singling to left to score Sanders – but Luna was thrown out at the plate to halt the Spartan rally.

URI’s biggest threat came in the bottom of the third, when Muldowney and Danielle Gariglio put together back-to-back two-out singles. Smith got Emily Hendricks to ground out to second to end the threat, keeping URI off the board.

The Spartans tacked on two runs in the top of the seventh to seal the victory, as pinch-hitter Carly Nielson lined a one-out single to left center, and was replaced on the basepaths by McBride, who stole second. Pinch-hitter Ellie Stoffer sacrificed McBride to third, then Gutknecht homered to dead center to push the Spartan lead to 5-0.

Smith closed the door on URI in the seventh, getting a lineout and two pop-outs to end the game.

Freshman Valerie Kaff got the start in game two for MSU, and went four innings before Kristina Zalewski pitched the fifth in her first appearance of the season. Kaff scattered three hits over four innings, and her classmate Zalewski faced just three batters in the fourth to secure MSU’s 9-0 victory.

The Spartans struck in the first inning for the second straight game. McBride doubled to left, but was thrown out at third on a steal attempt. Sarah Bowling walked to set the table for Kujawa, who hit her second homer of the day to center field for her third and fourth RBI.

MSU exploded for a seven-run fourth inning to put away the game. With two men on, Destinee Luna laid down a bunt single to plate Freimuth and advance Besson to third; Luna advanced to second on the throw. After a pitching change, McBride singled to left, scoring Besson. With two runners on, URI walked three consecutive batters - Bowling, Kujawa, and Gutknecht – to force in a run and leave the bases loaded for Thomas. The third baseman launched a shot over the right-field wall – her first career home run, as well as grand slam – to push MSU’s lead to an insurmountable 9-0.

Zalewski spelled Kaff to make her collegiate debut in the top of the fifth. She allowed her first batter, pinch hitter Deanna Wolf, to reach base on a single to right field, but Freimuth came up with an unassisted double play on the next batter, Megan Congro, catching her popup in foul territory on the first base side and picking off pinch runner Olivia Hendricks at first base. Muldowney flew out to center to end the game, as MSU succeeded in keeping the Rams off the board in both ends of the doubleheader.

MSU, now 2-1 on the season, heads to Arizona next weekend to participate in the Littlewood Classic. Among the teams MSU will face in Tucson is defending national champion Oklahoma, as well as pre-season top-five pick Washington.

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