By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 12, 2014
EAST LANSING — Hanging with the No. 5 Michigan softball team Saturday was already a tough task for last-place Michigan State.
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Some bad bounces didn’t make it any easier.
The Wolverines got double plays in each of the first three innings to fight off early Spartan chances, eventually pulling away and winning, 8-0, in five innings.
“You can give a lot of credit to that victory to the defense,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “The defense has to handle every play. It just went our way — they hit the ball really hard and got doubled up.”
Michigan has now won by mercy rule in 13 of its last 16 games, including the last five in a row, and has given up two total runs in its past seven contests.
For the second straight day, the Wolverines had trouble pulling away. They put up three in the first inning but only one in the next two before leaving the bases loaded in the fourth. Senior outfielder Lyndsay Doyle led off the game with a shot off the second baseman’s glove, and she turned it into a triple, but that was Michigan’s only extra-base hit until the fifth inning.
“Sometimes, we’re in a process where we’re trying too hard, but it’s just a matter of stepping back and taking a breath and we’re good,” said senior designated player Taylor Hasselbach. “It’s just a matter of adjusting pitch-to-pitch through the game.”
Junior right-hander Sara Driesenga helped keep the lead safe in the circle, extending her streak to 30.2 innings with one earned run allowed.
She gave up a leadoff single in each of the first two innings, but that was as far as the Spartans got. In both innings, freshman second baseman Abby Ramirez and senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard caught line drives and doubled the runner off first.
A few feet either way, and the game might have been a little different.
Driesenga got into another sticky situation in the third inning when a hit batter and two singles loaded the bases with one out.
“At that point, I wanted Sara to pick it up, which is what I told her,” Hutchins said. “I told the defense to stay back and just get an out. Double it up if you can, but we just needed to get an out and stop the bleeding.”
Michigan State left fielder Kassidy Kujawa slapped a grounder to third, which freshman third baseman Lindsay Montemarano sent home for the force. Junior catcher Lauren Sweet threw to first and hit Kujawa in fair territory for the double play.
“Huge for my confidence, huge for the team,” Driesenga said. “That keeps the momentum going our way. It’s a huge swing, especially when we’re here at Sparty.”
A step into foul territory, and the Spartans could have kept Michigan uneasy for a while longer.
Both Friday and Saturday, the Wolverines chipped away with a couple runs at a time, as opposed to the 13-run inning that powered them to a 21-1 pounding of Michigan State last season.
In the fifth, Michigan put itself in position for another run-rule victory. After Montemarano’s leadoff home run, Ramirez, senior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield and freshman first baseman Kelly Christner strung together singles. Ramirez crossed the plate with the eighth run, and Driesenga stranded a two-out single at first to secure the Wolverines’ 18th straight victory.
Michigan also tacked on two in the fourth on three hits and two walks, pulling ahead 6-0. Driesenga set down Michigan State 1-2-3 in the bottom half, and Montemarano led off the fifth with a high fly ball over the left-field fence.
By that time, not even a few feet could have made a difference.