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Michigan’s offense bails out pitching and completes comback

Patrick Barron/Daily
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BY NATE SELL
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 24, 2013

Sometimes two nationally recognized pitchers struggle, sometimes the only ranked team in the Big Ten makes numerous errors on defense and sometimes the reigning conference champs have to play catch-up.

When all three of these things happen at once for two games in a row, it’s the offense that has to step up.

Michigan had two comeback victories on Saturday, and both were a collective effort, with everyone in maize and blue contributing. Leading the charge was freshman shortstop Sierra Romero, who went 7-for-7 with three home runs before being walked in her last four at-bats.

Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 24-7 overall) fell behind 5-0 after two innings Saturday, but was able to cut the lead to 5-3 after four innings with a single from Romero that scored one run and a huge double by freshman Sierra Lawrence that brought in two runs.

Romero started a scoring frenzy in the fifth inning by hitting a solo home run well beyond the center-field wall in the bottom of the fifth. When one person in this lineup gets a big hit, everyone starts to swing the bat a little better, and with the bases loaded, junior outfielder Lyndsay Doyle hit a single that scored three runs off of a throwing error out of right field. They finished the inning up 5-9 and pushed the lead to 5-13 in the sixth.

The Wolverines found themselves in another big hole when they fell behind 6-0 in the second game. Sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet had a monster two-run homer that nearly cleared the bleachers in right field to put the Wolverines on the board and make the score 6-2.

“My approach going up to that at-bat was I had seen she had thrown first pitch strikes the whole game,” Sweet said. “I went up there and I was aggressive and I was ready to hit.”

With Romero perfect at the plate all weekend, Purdue (0-3, 11-18) stopped pitching to her. The fear of pitching to her and instead walking her extended the innings and gave Michigan more scoring opportunities.

Romero was walked in the sixth inning, and it came back to hurt the Boilermakers. First junior catcher Caitlin Blanchard got on base off of a fielding error at second base, then senior second baseman Ashley Lane hit a three-run homerun that tied up the game at seven.

In the bottom of the seventh inning with Doyle and junior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield on base, Romero was walked again to load the bases for Blanchard. She came through with a walk-off single up the middle, making Purdue pay for walking Romero and pushing Doyle to third base. As soon as Blanchard hit it, she knew she had just one thing to do.

“The thing going through my mind was ‘touch first base,’ because I know that’s the rule,” Blanchard said. “I just wanted to touch first base, then we could celebrate.”

Saturday marked two of the biggest comebacks the Wolverines have overcome this year, showing the mental toughness of this team. After the game, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins gave credit to the offense for sticking with it. She told them, “I don’t always like your softball, but I really like this group.”

The offensive firepower was important on a day when the pitching and the defense struggled. All it takes for Michigan is one big hit to get the team rolling. Once someone makes contact — whether it’s a home run by Romero or a big double by Lawrence — the rest of the team starts hitting better. Purdue found that out the hard way when its two big leads disappeared in just a few innings.