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Offense explodes, Wolverines sweep Spartans

By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 14, 2013

Exactly one month after the Michigan softball team’s last loss, it looked as though its dominance would finally come to an end in East Lansing on Sunday.

Down 7-4 against Michigan State in the seventh inning, junior catcher Caitlin Blanchard doubled to center field to spark a rally that would end in a Michigan sweep and the team’s 17th straight victory.

Senior second baseman Ashley Lane followed Blanchard with a home run to put the Wolverines within one run. Freshman left fielder Sierra Lawrence stepped up next and drove a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall. The score was tied at seven, and it was time for extra innings.

Michigan (12-0 Big Ten, 35-7 overall) wasted no time in the extra frame. After junior right fielder Nicole Sappingfield reached on a fielder’s choice and freshman shortstop Sierra Romero was intentionally walked, Blanchard came through again with an RBI single to knock in the would-be winning run. In the bottom of the eighth inning, sophomore right-hander Sara Driesenga set the Spartans down in order to clinch the victory.

“The important thing about this team is that, no matter how many runs we’re up or down, we just keep fighting and we just keep persevering,” Blanchard said. “Our offense is what really does that for us, and when we can score a lot of runs that really helps the defense and the pitching.”

The game was the second half of a doubleheader played on Sunday, after a game originally scheduled for Saturday was postponed due to weather. The split series between the interstate rivals started in Ann Arbor on Friday night before moving to East Lansing for the final two games.

Michigan State (7-4, 21-17) came into the weekend in second place in the Big Ten, and for a moment on Friday afternoon, it looked as though the 12th-ranked Wolverines might have found their first competition since entering Big Ten play. Michigan gave up a run to the Spartans in the first inning but failed to score in its own half of the first — a rarity for a team that has dominated in early innings this year.

Then after evening the score at one, Romero stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second and did what she has done all year — crush the ball. On a 2-0 pitch, Romero sent the next pitch over the left-field wall to put Michigan up 5-1. The team never looked back, putting on an offensive clinic en route to a 21-2 run-rule victory.

Senior third baseman Amy Knapp kept it going with an RBI single — her second hit of the inning. The Wolverine offense continued into the third inning in which it scored 13 runs. Sophomore Lauren Sweet, junior Lyndsay Doyle, freshman Kelsey Susalla and junior Taylor Hasselbach all chipped in with long balls in the inning — the most home runs Michigan has had this season in a single frame. The Wolverines added two more runs in the fourth before the mercy rule was put into effect.

In the circle, sophomore left-hander Haylie Wagner regained composure after struggling in the first inning. She pitched four innings while striking out five Spartans.

“I just wanted us to settle in and play our game, and we did obviously,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We were definitely on all cylinders on offense, and you don’t expect that to be the norm, but it’s certainly exciting. … The one thing I like about this team, nothing fazes them. This team just does their part.”

On Sunday, during the first game of the doubleheader, Michigan’s offense started quietly before producing a big fifth inning. The Wolverines got on the board first when Sappingfield scored on an error in the first inning, but Michigan State got the run back quickly off starting pitcher Driesenga.

Pitching dominated through the middle innings, with each side only allowing one additional run until Michigan came to bat in the fifth. Michigan scored two runs by stringing together a series of hits before finally loading the bases for Romero. The Spartans had already intentionally walked Romero three times in the game, but now had no place to put her — and she made them pay. The freshman sent a shot to left field — her second grand slam of the series — to put Michigan up 8-2. The Wolverines tagged on three more in the sixth inning to give them the 11-2 victory.

“We have so much depth in this lineup,” Lane said. “Anyone can do it at any given time. It’s exciting. This team is very special.”