Wolverines’ big wins contribute to 3-0 series sweep of Kent State

Junior infielder and first baseman Aidan Falk plays in a game during the 2016 season.

Junior infielder and first baseman Aidan Falk plays in a game during the 2016 season.
Marina Ross/Daily

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017 - 8:54pm

Thirty strikeouts. Fourteen innings pitched. No runs and only one hit allowed. It was nothing short of a monumental weekend for Michigan’s senior right-hander, Megan Betsa. 

After earning her fourth career no-hitter Saturday, the ace showed no signs of slowing down in the circle Sunday afternoon, allowing a sole hit and underscoring the Michigan softball team’s standout home-opening weekend.

The 19th-ranked Wolverines (17-7-1) captured their first series sweep of the season (3-0) after collecting two more wins over Kent State (8-13) in a doubleheader Sunday at Alumni Field, with an 11-3 run-rule victory followed by a 3-0 shutout. The weekend’s successes became all the more sweet when Michigan coach Carol Hutchins — already the winningest softball coach of all time — netted her 1,500th coaching win from the day’s first slate.

“First of all, it just feels great being home with our home fans, that’s always fun,” said senior centerfielder Kelly Christner. “And I think we really did come together as a team this weekend. It was cold and there were a lot of other factors and variables that you can turn into negative things. But I think we stayed together and stayed positive, so it’s really great coming out with these wins.”

Though Saturday’s matchup was an offensive disappointment for the Wolverines — with just two hits on the day against the Golden Flashes — Michigan remedied its struggles at the plate in Sunday’s first game. The Wolverines cranked out 11 runs on 11 hits from seven separate players, with eight RBI.   

Junior first baseman Aidan Falk proved herself essential, maintaining composure in high-pressure situations throughout the day, posting five of Michigan’s eight RBI including a two-run double in both games.

The Wolverines’ ballooning offensive production in the first game of the day was a major break through for a team whose season so far has been marred by offensive woes, from stranding runners on base to staying too tight at the plate.

“I know how well these kids can hit, I watch them every day,” Hutchins said. “And they’ve been tight endlessly throughout the season … and it’s not working for us. So they really need to just relax and believe that their swings are good enough. And I thought we got better this weekend. I thought we were better.”

While Michigan ended up dominating the first game, Kent State got off to a dangerous start. In the top of the first frame, the Golden Flashes blasted a two-run homer, making junior right-hander Tera Blanco appear nervous and inconsistent in the circle.

However, the Wolverines quickly answered Kent State’s efforts. By the end of the first inning, Michigan had taken the lead, 6-2, and had already forced Golden Flashes’ starting right-hander Madi Huck out of the game. 

An atypical fielding error by Christner in the top of the fourth gave Kent State the only other run it would see all day, with the Wolverines still maintaining an 8-3 lead. While Michigan committed just this one error in the game, the Golden Flashes struggled defensively, with five errors.

After a rocky first frame, Blanco posted a solid complete-game win, demonstrating composure as she struck out 10 batters while walking only one.

Though the Wolverines’ offensive production in the latter slate did not match the 11 runs in the first, Hutchins attributed this in part to Kent State right-hander Ronnie Ladines’ prowess in the circle. Ladines, who pitched the first game of the series as well, only allowed Michigan two hits Saturday and six Sunday.

“(Ladines) is outstanding, she’s good,” Hutchins said. “So we had to come up with a game plan to try to take away her best pitch.”

Ladines’ Sunday appearance started off as more of the same, giving Betsa a run for her money. The game was a pitcher’s duel from the onset, with Betsa and Ladines both posting 1-2-3 frames in the first inning. It wasn’t until the bottom of the second that either team recorded a hit, as Blanco broke the ice with a base hit, her only of the day.

Heading into the bottom of the fourth, Michigan was yet to put a run on the scoreboard, and Hutchins was not pleased. She held a team huddle that proved effective as the Wolverine offense finally put the pieces together, earning all three runs of the game in a single inning.

“We decided on a game plan (in the huddle) and they executed it,” Hutchins said. “Faith started it all off with that fantastic rope, and hitting is contagious. That gave us some confidence. Kelly had a great at-bat, swung well, and I think that confidence started to grow.”

With Canfield at second and Christner at first, Falk slammed a hard ball down the left-field line, earning a two-run double, finally putting numbers on the scoreboard. Minutes later, senior shortstop Abby Ramirez drove in Michigan’s final run on a gap double, widening the lead to 3-0.

Concluding the series in a fashion consistent with her playing all weekend, Betsa ended the game with a pair of strikeouts in the top of the seventh. 

The home opening series was a big break through for the Wolverines, from seeing no losses, to consistency in the circle, to production at the plate. In Hutchins’ eyes, Michigan was successful in all areas because they kept it simple.

“We didn’t sweep the weekend by doing anything other than playing one-pitch softball,” she said. “We were very one-pitch focused out there, one-inning focused, and that’s the way you play softball. That’s Michigan softball.”