Michigan upperclassmen calm the storm

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 - 11:04pm

Tera Blanco was the starting pitcher before coming in for relief.

Tera Blanco was the starting pitcher before coming in for relief. Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

It’s uncommon to see freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien load the bases.

It’s even less so to see the ace get pulled and replaced by senior right-hander Tera Blanco without getting a full inning to pitch.

“I think Beaubien just kind of felt off, and I think that she let it affect her a little bit,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “You’re not always on your best game. So, I’m not really overly concerned about that, and it was just a tight game, and she looked like she was struggling, so, she didn’t really get a chance to get it going either.”

Freshmen often get nerves playing at home for the first time. Beaubien was no exception — making her first appearance at the mound in the fifth inning. After allowing a double down the right-field line to the first batter she faced, she temporarily recollected herself after a visit from junior catcher Katie Alexander and assistant coach Jennifer Brundage on the mound, collecting two outs with only one runner on base.

However, the freshmen nerves crept back, as she proceeded to walk the next Central Michigan batter on four pitches. Beaubien repeated a similar situation the next at-bat as she threw three balls in a row before loading the bases.

It just wasn’t her night.

Luckily for her, when she’s not at her best, there are plenty around her to carry the load — the veterans of the team — and it was these players who powered the No. 17 Michigan softball team to a 5-0 win over Central Michigan.

Making one of her seldom returns to the mound after switching out, Blanco calmed the storm, inducing a groundout to junior second baseman Faith Canfield to keep the game scoreless at the top of the fifth.

“I was just really pleased with Tera,” Hutchins said. “I thought she was lights-out today. She was, she got ahead, and that’s all I ever want from Tera cause when she’s ahead, she’s awesome.”

With the offense clearly stagnant in the sixth inning, Canfield took it upon herself to put the Wolverines in a position to score when no one else could — under or upperclassmen.

“All the game, we just needed that one hit that started everything,” Canfield said. “It gave everyone confidence, and I mean you could see just one leads to another and another and another. So I think it just gives us so much confidence once we get that one. We all knew it was coming. It was just about time.”

Up until that point, the underclassmen were incapable of establishing any rhythm at the plate. Quick ground balls and flyouts summarized their performances through the first five innings.

But then Canfield opened the next frame with a leadoff double, opening the way for the rest of the team to follow suit. Batters who had struggled all game to find contact found not just the ball, but the open areas.

Junior outfielder Natalie Peters hit a one-hop single that was gathered by the shortstop but only after Peters and Canfield were safe at second and third, respectively. Blanco hit a near-home run to left-center field that allowed Canfield to score, and Peters and Blanco to advance two bases each.

Then the underclassman found a rhythm.

The sophomores and freshmen no longer felt the need to impress the home crowd or feel nervous playing at Alumni Field. The pressure of a scoreless game was gone, allowing them to swing more freely.

“Faith leading off with a double was huge, and it forced them to decide if we were on their pitcher so they changed it up, and really, we had better at-bats,” Hutchins said. “We picked better pitches, and we just gained confidence. And it’s kind of an all or nothing.

“And confidence comes from not feeling the pressure of the world on your shoulders, and I thought that’s what was the turning point, is once we were on the board, they didn’t feel the pressure and then they swing like they swing.”

Sophomore third baseman Madison Uden drove a ball to left centerfield in identical fashion as Blanco — a double that was a near-home run. Freshman outfielder Lou Allan brought home Uden with a RBI single to right centerfield. Sophomore outfielder Haley Hoogenraad knocked a hit down the right line for a double, followed by freshman shortstop Natalia Rodriguez’s single to load the bases.

The underclassman found success they hadn’t earlier in the game thanks to the lack of pressure set off by Canfield and the upperclassman.

Canfield brought the inning to a full circle, capping off the offensive bombardment with a single down the right field line.

When the underclassmen found themselves in a bind, the veterans found a way not only to weather the storm, but to strike back with a storm of their own.