Maryland softball traveled to East Lansing after being swept by Ohio State last weekend. Michigan State entered the series 0-3 in Big Ten play as well after getting swept by Purdue. The Terps dropped all three games to Michigan State, falling to 7-26-1 on the season. They sit at the bottom of the conference with an 0-6 record.
Friday evening: Michigan State 11, Maryland 3 (6 innings)
The series opened with a blowout loss, making it the second straight game the Terps failed to play seven innings.
Maryland fell behind early in the first when Madison Martin gave up three runs. The big hit for the Spartans was a two-run double from Sarah Gutknecht.
The Terps appeared to be back in the game in the top of the third. Juli Strange and Amanda Brashear opened the inning with back-to-back singles setting up the middle of the order. Skylynne Ellazar drove in the first run on a fielder's choice, and Hannah Dewey cut the deficit to one after a RBI single. Maryland tied the score in the fourth with an unearned run.
After fighting its way back into the game, Maryland fell apart. The Spartans scored eight unanswered runs, including three in the third inning and four in the fourth. Martin was replaced after 4.2 innings by Lauren Graves, who allowed three unearned runs before the game was called.
Saturday afternoon: Michigan State 2, Maryland 0
Maryland managed to keep the game close behind the arm of Dewey. The start was one of her best this season. She only allowed runs in the third and fourth inning. Lea Foerster drove in a run with a RBI double and the other run scored on a wild pitch.
While Dewey did her best to keep the Terps close, the offense had no answer for Bridgette Rainey. She earned her ninth win of the season by allowing only one hit over five innings and striking out eight batters. The Terps recorded only one hit against Jordan Watson, who pitched the final two innings and recorded the save.
Sunday afternoon: Michigan State 6, Maryland 2
The early-inning struggles continued for the Terps when Martin gave up three runs in the first. She surrendered a leadoff double to Foerster, which set up the inning for Sarah Gutknecht, who hit a two-run homer to left field. Martin pitched two innings and allowed four runs.
The Terps showed some fight in the fourth inning, loading the bases with no outs. With the tying run at the plate, Kassidy Kross struck out swinging and Destiney Henderson followed with a flyout to left field. Strange walked on a full count to bring the first run home for the Terps, but that was the only run of the inning, as Brashear followed with a strikeout and three runners were left stranded.
The Terps had another chance to get back into the game in the sixth inning. Maryland loaded the bases for the second time of the game, but only scored one run on a fielder’s choice. Again, the Terps were hitless with runners in scoring position.
After the failed opportunity in the sixth, Maryland never got a better chance to cut the deficit against the Spartans. Overall, Maryland hit 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base.
Terps cannot depend solely on Martin
While the loss Saturday was Maryland’s fifth straight, it was significant that Dewey pitched a complete game and allowed only two runs. The Terps managed to remain in a close game without their ace Madison Martin.
While many things have gone wrong for the Terps this year, one key issue is the amount of pressure on Martin. She is leading the team with a 3.69 ERA and has pitched 106.1 innings, the fifth-highest total in the Big Ten. The second closest on the pitching staff in either category is Dewey with a 5.35 ERA in 73.1 innings. Martin has recorded five wins on the season including the Terps’ last victory with a shutout over St. John’s. Since then, she has had four losses, dropping her record to 5-9.
Martin also appeared in 14 games of relief, usually in high-pressure situations. She has been excellent this year, but the Terps cannot run her into the ground. Dewey will have to log more innings and go deep into her starts for Martin to be effective throughout the season.
Another long season
The Terps are on pace to match the school record of 40 losses that was set in 2016. They started last season 8-25, compared to a 7-26-1 start this year. Maryland has dropped its first six Big Ten games of the season and it does not appear the schedule will get any easier. Three of the final six series against Big Ten teams are against teams with winning records, including No. 20 Michigan and No. 22 Wisconsin.
Maryland continues its road trip by traveling to Northwestern next weekend. The Terps will see a variety of arms, considering the Wildcats have four pitchers who have each thrown over 40 innings. A bounce-back is possible, though, as Northwestern has the second-worst batting average in the conference.