With nine runs in the first two innings Friday, Maryland softball’s hitters had built a lead too large for Michigan State to overcome.
While the Spartans came within two runs in the bottom of the seventh, the Terps held off their comeback for their 18th victory of 2019, matching last season’s win total with five more conference series remaining.
Michigan State went on to capture a walk-off 8-7 win Saturday and an 11-3 win Sunday to take the series, but that didn’t negate the impressive rebound from Maryland’s offense.
Against Ohio State the week before, the Terps managed just 12 hits through three games. Then in East Lansing, they put together one of their best offensive showings since 2015, finding new ways to produce at the plate without their top hitter.
“We were really prepared with our scouting this week,” shortstop Bailey Boyd said. “When we were at the plate, we already knew what pitches we were seeking and were ready to attack.”
[Read more: Maryland softball falls in five-inning rubber match to Michigan State, 11-3]
The team totaled 36 hits in the three-game series, the most since playing Indiana in 2015 when it notched 41 hits, 21 of which came in the Terps’ 21-8 series-ending win.
While the offense had been the catalyst for most of Maryland’s 16 nonconference wins, it was stifled facing Minnesota and Ohio State’s pitching staff’s when Big Ten play began. Plus, second baseman Taylor Okada was hitting .426 with 15 RBIs before she was ruled out the rest of the campaign with a knee injury. Her absence has required other players to come through in her stead.
Coach Julie Wright moved center fielder JoJo McRae from the No. 9 spot to leadoff after Okada underwent surgery, and the sophomore’s .409 on-base percentage and aggressive baserunning have been keys to the Terps’ offense finding a new rhythm.
“[McRae] is a wonderful baserunner,” Wright said. “She’s filling her role well and I think she’s really doing a good job of taking her skillset and making it work as a leadoff.”
[Read more: Michigan State walks off in the eighth inning, 8-7, over Maryland softball]
McRae led off all three games with a hit, totaling seven hits and four stolen bases throughout the weekend. She started the Terps’ first-inning onslaught Friday with a double down the left-field line.
After scoring four runs on four hits in the first, the Maryland batters picked up right where they left off in the second. Left fielder Micaela Abbatine led off the frame with a single up the middle.
The Terps then jumped out to a 9-0 lead with five runs on three hits in the second, a two-run double from designated player Sammie Stefan playing a large part. Stefan’s average jumped to a team-high .350, finishing the weekend with five RBIs, including a solo homer Saturday.
“Our offense is our strength right now,” catcher Gracie Voulgaris said. “As long as we’re putting one run across the board every inning, we’re going to have some leeway.”
Despite Maryland’s similar start at the plate in Saturday, Michigan State came back and walked it off in the eighth with a sacrifice fly. In Sunday’s rubber match, the offense plated just three runs, too few to overcome a leaky pitching staff in the five-inning loss.
Boyd isn’t concerned with how the offense tapered off as the weekend progressed, though, and thinks if the game had lasted all seven innings, the offense would have recovered.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t fall in our way,” Boyd said, “but our offense was ready to put up some runs and back up our pitchers.”
With more than half the conference slate remaining, the Terps want to establish early leads to alleviate pressure from a pitching staff that walked seven Spartans in Sunday’s loss, including five in the last frame.
“It’s about wanting and feeling the need to score runs in the first inning,” Voulgaris said. “It’s going to allow us to have that back-up and allow both sides to relax, still getting the job done but not having as much pressure.”