LINCOLN — A productive night at the plate Friday helped offset Nebraska’s roughest defensive outing of the season as the Huskers held off Michigan State for a 9-6 softball victory.
The 22-9 Huskers entered the game with a team fielding percentage of .981. That number tumbled a bit with five errors in their Big Ten opener before 447 at Bowlin Stadium.
That was a topic of conversation in the postgame team huddle.
“If you look at our errors, most of them were from our seniors tonight,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said. “I just said, ‘I’m going to roast you here. How many of you thought this is your last first Big Ten game at Bowlin Stadium?’
“So now that’s under our belt. It’s behind us. You’re emotional young ladies, you want to do well, and I said we all know that wasn’t you. Now they can exhale. That is so not typical of them.”
The Huskers offset that season-high total of five errors by nearly matching their season-best total in hits with 11 as they pounced on the Spartans (11-14) for six runs in the first three innings.
After Alyvia Simmons coaxed a leadoff walk out of Michigan State pitcher Kristina Zalewski, Tristen Edwards launched a 2-1 offering from Zalewski over the center-field fence for her seventh home run of the season.
Doubles by Laura Barrow and Simmons, along with a Michigan State error, helped spark a three-run second inning that put Nebraska ahead 5-1. Barrow’s shot to left-center was followed with a single by Gina Metzler.
Third baseman Lexey Kneib then put down a sacrifice bunt to move Barrow and Metzler up one base each before Simmons ripped her sixth double of the season to left-center to put NU up 4-1.
Simmons eventually scored after stealing third base and then home. After Michigan State scored once in the top of the third, Barrow and Metzler again teamed up to produce another run in the bottom of the inning.
Barrow laced a two-out double to left field, then scored from first on a single up the middle by Metzler. It was the eighth RBI of the season for the senior from Papillion-La Vista.
Barrow went 3 for 4 and is 5 for 8 in her last two games, raising her batting average by 53 points. The senior from Kearney, Missouri, said she’s happy to start being a bigger part of the offense.
“I’m just really trying to put my last few games as a Husker into perspective,” Barrow said. “It’s just a matter of putting the right swing on the right pitch. My team’s been doing amazing on the offensive side of the ball, and I just really want to contribute.”
Michigan State cut Nebraska’s lead to one with three runs in the top of the fourth inning. The inning started with a dropped fly ball in left by Metzler, followed by three hits, including an RBI double by Ebonee Echols and an RBI single from Caitie Ladd.
Sydney McLeod replaced starting pitcher Kaylan Jablonski in the circle in the fifth inning, and the sophomore from Goodyear, Arizona, held the Spartans scoreless on two hits in the fifth and sixth innings.
Nebraska got its lead back to four with three runs in the bottom of the fifth. Once again it was Barrow who got things started, this time with a leadoff home run that just cleared the left-field fence in front of the scoreboard.
Metzler drew a walk, Simmons reached a one-out error, and Edwards drove both home with a single up the middle for her 25th and 26th RBIs of the season to put the Huskers ahead 9-5.
Those runs came in handy in the seventh inning as things got a bit dicey when the Spartans loaded the bases. McKenzie Long doubled, Lexi White walked and Melanie Baccay reached on an error by Barrow.
McLeod bowed up and got back-to-back strikeouts. Pinch-hitter Joanna Bartz singled up the middle, bringing Long home from third. Edwards smothered the ball before it got out of the infield and flipped it to Barrow, who gunned down White at home trying to score from second for the final out.
Jablonski earned the victory to improve to 15-5, and McLeod earned her first save of the season with her work in the final three innings.
The teams are scheduled to play the second game of the three-game series Saturday at 1 p.m. The final game of the series is at noon Sunday.
Michigan State (11-14)…………011 300 1—6 11 1
At Nebraska (22-9)………………231 030 x—9 11 5
W: Kaylan Jablonski (15-5). L: Kristina Zalewski (4-6). S: Sydney McLeod (1). 2B: MSU, Lea Forester, McKenzie Long 2, Ebonee Echols 2; N, Madi Unzicker, Laura Barrow 2, Alyvia Simmons. HR: N, Tristen Edwards, Barrow. A: 447.