- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 21, 2013
Whether it’s winning by 10 in five innings or with a comeback rally in the sixth, one thing is certain: the No. 9 Michigan softball team has forgotten how to lose.
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A three-game sweep of Iowa tied a program record for consecutive wins in the Big Ten (16) and extended the Wolverines’ winning streak to 21 — the longest in the country.
When a 2-1 change-up pitch from Iowa right-hander Chelsea Lyon was called for a strike, freshman Sierra Romero grimaced, knowing she had let her pitch get by. Romero took a big swing at the next pitch, but the result was nothing more than her first strikeout in conference play this season.
The first inning was the last time that Romero and the Wolverines (16-0 Big Ten, 39-7 overall) would be frustrated in the doubleheader on Sunday.
With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet drove her fifth home run of the season over the left-field wall to put the Wolverines up 3-0. Hitting from the nine spot in place of her usual lead-off position, junior centerfielder Lindsay Doyle continued the two-out hitting with a line drive to center but was caught stealing to end the inning.
Two walks and a single loaded the bases for freshman left fielder Sierra Lawrence in the bottom of the third inning. Lawrence — hitting from the cleanup spot in the lineup for the first time this season — drove the second pitch of the at-bat over the wall. Again, Sweet extended the inning with a two-out single to right.
The Hawkeyes answered in the top of the fourth, silencing the crowd with two straight home runs to centerfield off of sophomore left-hander Haylie Wagner. In the fifth, Iowa shortstop Megan Blank drilled a three-run home run into the right-field bleachers, cutting the Wolverine lead to just three.
Sophomore pitcher Sara Driesenga entered the circle for the Wolverines in the sixth in relief of Wagner. Holding onto a two-run lead with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, Driesenga came through with a strikeout to complete the two-pitcher effort and the win.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Michigan opted to end early.
Hutchins was forced to take an early trip to the mound in the top of the first inning after Driesenga found herself with runners on first and third with one out. She was bailed out by junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard, who threw a grounder to Sweet for the tag out at home. Like she had in game one, Driesenga recorded a strikeout to escape the inning unscathed.
But without further ado, Romero drove a pitch off the scoreboard in left field. With her 19th home run, the freshman became the sole conference leader in total bases, hits, runs scored, home runs and RBI.
“She could play for the Tigers,” Hutchins told Big Ten Network. “She has some of the quickest hands in Michigan softball history.”
A .583 hitter in bases-loaded situations, Blanchard stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the third inning with an opportunity to crack the game open. She did just that with a single into right field and two more singles put the Wolverines up 5-0 with one out.
After a solo shot from senior second baseman Ashley Lane put Michigan up 7-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Hutchins sent freshman utility player Kelsey Susalla in to pinch hit. Susalla came just shy of her fifth home run in two weeks but settled for her first career triple off of the right-field wall. The Wolverines completed their eighth mercy-rule victory in conference play.
On Saturday, Michigan played comeback against the Hawkeyes, etching out a 5-3 win.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth on Saturday, the Wolverines did what they do best: bat around.
After consecutive walks to Romero — who had a home run in the second inning — and senior second baseman Ashley Lane, Blanchard extended her hitting streak to 16 games with a single. With the bases loaded, Lawrence punched a single through the middle to tie the game.
Hutchins went with Susalla in the pressure situation, calling on the freshman to pinch hit for senior third baseman Knapp. Just as she had in the final game against Michigan State last weekend, Susalla delivered on the first pitch she saw, drilling a single up the middle to take the lead and secure a victory. A sacrifice fly from Sweet gave the Wolverines their fifth and final run of the game.
“I kept the same one-pitch mentality, worked on following the pitcher’s tendencies and adjusting to them,” Susalla said. “I knew she was throwing a certain pitch that I wanted to look for. Waiting for that pitch helped a lot, and that’s what I went for.”
Two Wolverines extended streaks of their own this weekend. Romero has reached base in 25 straight games. Blanchard holds an 18-game hitting streak, improving her batting average to just under .500 on the season.
“The coaches have taught me how to finish my swing,” Blanchard said. “The hitting streak is just an outcome of the process of getting better.”
During the Big Ten tirade, Michigan is outscoring opponents 157-56. With the majority of conference play in the rearview mirror, Michigan has a shot to go undefeated in the Big Ten for the first time in program history. But for this team, the most important game is on Tuesday.
“People ask me about the winning streak, and I tell them I don’t care,” Hutchins said. “You can’t control what you’ve done in the past, you just play one game.”