Kristina Zalewski tossed a four-hit shutout as Michigan State earned a 6-0 victory over Ohio State on Friday night in Columbus. The Spartans secured a spot in the Big Ten Tournament next week with the victory, and won for the fourth time in the last five games.
MSU (26-26, 7-14 B1G) took down the Buckeyes, who were the top team receiving votes in this week’s NFCA top-25, for the first time in the last 13 meetings. OSU falls to 31-16-1, 12-8-1 in Conference action.
The two starting pitchers, Kristina Zalewski and Shelby Hursh, engaged in a pitchers duel through five innings, when MSU broke up a scoreless tie with a home run by Kassidy Kujawa, then added two more runs in the frame on a bases-loaded single by freshman Kaitlyn Eveland to make it a 3-0 ballgame. MSU tacked on three more runs in the top of the seventh, including a two-RBI triple by Ebonee Echolsto empty the bases and push the Spartan lead to 6-0.
Meanwhile, Zalewski remained in firm command of the game from her first pitch to the final out, getting six strikeouts and allowing just four hits. Her final strikeout of the night, getting pinch hitter Jayla Saibene swinging to end the game, was the 200th of the season, making Zalewski just the fourth Spartan pitcher to record 200 strikeouts in a single season. She entered the game ranked 20th in the nation in strikeouts.
The teams will meet on Saturday at Buckeye Field for the second of the three games in the series. First pitch is at 2 pm.
Kassidy Kujawa hit her sixth home run of the season as a pinch hitter leading off the fifth inning. Freshman Kaitlyn Eveland came up with a two-RBI single in the fifth, and finished 1-for-3 on the day. Ebonee Echols smacked a two-run triple in the top of the seventh. Sarah Gutknecht had a pair of base hits, an RBI, and was walked twice. Kristina Zalewski went the distance, scattering four hits and striking out six to earn the shutout, her second of the season.
“This is a big win over a quality team, and I could not be happier with our approach tonight. The stresses of finals are behind us, we’re starting to get our injured players back into the lineup and closer to their top form, and it really has felt this week like things were coming together. It’s important that we’re playing our best softball of the year when the games mean the most, and this was certainly one of our better games of the year. I cannot say enough about the performance of Kristina Zalewski, who just was in complete control all night. It’s a great way to start the series, but we also know that we have two more games . ”
— Head coach Jacquie Joseph
STATS AND STORYLINES
The first four innings were a good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, as OSU’s Shelby Hursh allowed just two hits and struck out three, while Zalewski matched that strikeout total but had surrendered three hits. Hursh allowed two baserunners in the fourth with back-to-back one-out walks, but the teams were engaged in the scoreless deadlock through the first four frames. MSU broke up the scoreless tie in the top of the fifth inning. Kassidy Kujawa led off the inning when she stepped in as a pinch hitter, and she jacked a shot to dead center field for her sixth home run of the season and a 1-0 lead for MSU. Jacquie Reiser reached on an error and Celeste Wood followed by legging out an infield bunt single to put two runners on without an out. McKenzie Long reached on a fielder’s choice as Reiser was nabbed at third, and Lea Foerster grounded out for the second out of the frame. Hursh intentionally walked Gutknecht to load the bases, and freshman Kaitlyn Eveland made Hursh pay with a single down the first-base line, plating two more for a 3-0 lead. Alex Bayne led off the OSU sixth by reaching on an error, MSU’s first of the game. A pair of fielder’s choice plays followed, leaving OSU with a runner on first (Clark) with two down, but Lea Foerster hauled in a long fly ball in center field to end the inning and preserve MSU’s lead. Reliever Morgan Rey retired the first five batters she saw after entering for Hursh in the fifth, but she put two on in the top of the seventh with a one-out single by Long followed by Rey hitting Lea Foerster. That brought Gutknecht to the plate, and after she was intentionally walked in the fifth, she delivered an RBI single to push MSU’s lead to 4-0. After Eveland reached on a fielder’s choice to leave runners at the corners, Ebonee Echolsbroke through with her ninth triple of the season, bringing home both Foerster and Eveland for the 6-0 advantage. Gutknecht was intentionally walked in the fifth inning for the second time in as many weekends, and leads the Spartans with 19 free passes this season. Her two hits on the day gave her a career-best 50 hits this season. Kujawa’s home run was her sixth of the season, tying Celeste Wood for the team lead. Her 20th career home run moves her into a tie for fifth place in the MSU career annals. Zalewski earned her fourth start in the last five Spartan games and evened her record at 14-14 with her third consecutive complete game victory in Big Ten play. It was her 15th complete game of the season and 26th of her career. Echols’ triple, her ninth of the season, pulled her back into the national lead.