Michigan finds fun, sweeps Judi Garman Classic

Sunday, March 4, 2018 - 4:27pm


File Photo/Daily

Music blared out of a portable speaker in the dugout. The Michigan softball team began to dance.

With their game against No. 8 Baylor in a rain delay, the 25th-ranked Wolverines used the break to stay loose and have a little fun. That attitude paid off as Michigan went 5-0 in the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., this weekend to raise its overall record to 13-6.

At first, the Wolverines’ offense seemed rife with the same inconsistencies that had plagued them all season as they struggled to climb out of an early 2-0 hole against Loyola Marymount.

Luckily, Michigan had Tera Blanco.

With a runner on third base and the Wolverines trailing, 2-1, the senior utility player smacked a single down the left field line to tie the game. Two innings later, with runners on first and second, she hit a walk-off single that gave Michigan the win, 3-2.

Throughout the tournament, Blanco and junior second baseman Faith Canfield served as catalysts for the Wolverines. In Thursday’s second game, a 5-0 win over Charlotte, Blanco got the win on the mound while Canfield had three RBIs.

Blanco continued her hot streak the next morning. She stepped up to the plate in the first inning with two on and nobody out against the Bears, then smacked a home run to give Michigan a 3-0 lead with one swing of the bat. That was when the offense flipped a switch. The Wolverines put up three more runs — including one on a home run by Canfield — for a 6-3 win.

“We saw (our upperclassmen) step up,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “ … And the confidence that it gave our team, we carried through the whole weekend.”

No. 18 Louisiana Lafayette couldn’t quiet Canfield, as her home run and two-run single provided the Wolverines with all the runs they needed in a 3-1 win.

And on Saturday against Cal Poly, the offense truly let loose and put up 11 runs in a blowout. Senior utility player Aidan Falk had three RBIs, including a two-run home run, while Blanco added a two-run double.

“We just try to simplify things,” Canfield said. “We felt like in Texas (last week) we were trying to do a little bit too much and so (we) just came to play it and have some fun. … When we have fun (we) just play better.”

But Michigan’s offensive outburst didn’t just come from the seasoned veterans. Freshman utility player Lou Allan came up clutch with a pinch-hit two-run single to open the scoring in the game against the 49ers. And on Saturday, sophomore catcher Abby Skvarce hit a game-ending two-run homer against the Mustangs — the first of her career.

“Sometimes they’re trying too hard,” Hutchins said, “but I liked our groove. I liked our confidence and it gave us some, they were a little more loose in the end.”

The usually-dominant pitching, meanwhile, did just enough to secure wins for the Wolverines. Freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien gave up runs in all three of her starts — against the Lions, Baylor and Cal Poly. But she also escaped a jam against the Mustangs after re-entering with runners on second and third and one out and took over in the seventh inning against the RaginCajuns to earn the save.

Blanco picked up two wins. One came in a start against Charlotte — in which she pitched five scoreless innings with five strikeouts — and the other against Louisiana Lafayette, where she was tasked with keeping the Ragin’ Cajuns off the board with runners on first and second and Michigan clinging to a 3-0 lead.

And though Hutchins used a quick hook with her, freshman right-hander Sarah Schaefer continued getting looks. She allowed only one run across three appearances, though she recorded four walks with no strikeouts.

“Our approach is just to get outs and focus on one pitch at a time,” Blanco said. “Just do our part and be effective.”

For a team that has at times seemed tight and tentative, the Judi Garman Classic was a completely new look. And if this weekend was any indication, a fun-loving approach could be what sparks the Wolverines to more wins.

And if it does, they’ll have plenty more to dance about.