Wolverines split two series in ACC/Big Ten Challenge
After the first day of the tournament, it looked as though Michigan softball was back. After the second day of the tournament, it was clear that the team still has plenty of work to do.
The No. 20 Michigan softball team competed in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Tallahassee, Fla. over the weekend, playing four games in two days against Notre Dame and No. 8 Florida State.
The Wolverines were set to face Notre Dame on Friday afternoon, but due to weather-related delays, the Fighting Irish were unable to arrive on time for the contest, and the game was rescheduled for Sunday morning. The teams still played in their regularly-scheduled game on Saturday.
In what was an offensive display on the part of the Wolverines, the team looked eager to kick off the tournament. After a scoreless first inning, Michigan got its first run of the weekend on an RBI double off the bat of junior catcher Katie Alexander.
The offensive onslaught was highlighted by a four-run fourth inning, which put the game out of reach. Senior infielder Amanda Vargas led off the inning with a home run down the left field line. Later in the inning, with two outs and two on base, junior second baseman Faith Canfield lined a pitch off the glove of Notre Dame’s third baseman. The ball ended up in left field, scoring junior third baseman Alex Sobczak. The Wolverines capped off the fourth with a two-run double by sophomore catcher Abby Skvarce, increasing the lead to 5-0.
Michigan tacked on one more run in the bottom of the fifth inning after senior utility player Aidan Falk hit a solo homer to left field.
On the other side of play, freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien pitched a gem and earned a win –– surrendering just two hits and striking out four through five innings. In her final inning, she retired the Fighting Irish on nine pitches, in 1-2-3 fashion, all on strikeouts.
The second game of the day pitted the Wolverines against Florida State.
Michigan came out of the gate strong with a leadoff double from Canfield on the second pitch of the game to the right-center field wall. Senior utility player Tera Blanco drove her in on a single to third base after Canfield advanced on a wild pitch from Seminole pitcher Meghan King.
Led by strong defense and pitching, the one run proved to be the difference, as Beaubien had yet another stellar outing. The freshman was nearly unhittable, as she had a perfect game going through 6.1 innings. With one out in the seventh inning, a sharp grounder was hit up the middle that just escaped freshman shortstop Natalia Rodriguez’s glove, ending the perfect game bid. The Seminoles tacked on one more hit in the seventh inning before Beaubien struck out the final batter to conclude her two-hit, seven-strikeout shutout.
The Wolverines’ luck didn’t continue, though, as the team dropped both rematches against Florida State and Notre Dame the next day.
Tera Blanco got the start in the circle in the first game of the day against Notre Dame. This time, the Fighting Irish flipped the script and struck first –– crossing the plate twice in the first inning. Notre Dame got their first run on the board on a wild pitch that got past Skvarce and added a second run on a sacrifice fly down the right field line. A third-inning leadoff homer followed by a single to right field ended Blanco’s outing, and freshman right-hander Sarah Schaefer came on in relief. Schaefer escaped the inning, keeping the score at 3-0 and stranding a pair of runners.
Michigan mounted a comeback in the top of the fourth inning. Rodriguez reached base on a bunt to third base to lead off the inning, advanced to second on a groundout and stole third. Vargas later walked on five pitches. Then, the power-hitting Alexander stepped into the batter’s box and hit a two-out, three-run bomb to straightaway center –– tying the game at three.
The Wolverines looked poised to take the lead in the top half of the fifth when they loaded the bases after drawing three walks. Falk stepped up to the plate with two outs and a chance to put Michigan ahead for the first time. After fouling off the first pitch, she watched three straight miss the zone. A strike on the next pitch loaded the count. She then fouled off three more, but finally went down swinging on the ninth pitch.
Trouble was brewing for the Wolverines in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Fighting Irish loaded the bases with only one out after two hitters were plunked to reach base. A lineout to the first baseman made it two outs, and once again, a batter was hit by a pitch. It resulted in a run being forced in, giving Notre Dame the lead.
Michigan’s comeback came up short when Canfield hit into a double play for the final outs. In a game where all three Michigan pitchers made an appearance –– Beaubien recorded two outs in the sixth –– Schaefer took the loss, as she was responsible for the go-ahead run.
The final matchup of the weekend for the Wolverines took place Sunday afternoon against Florida State. Schaefer took the mound after pitching 3.1 innings of one-hit ball against Notre Dame, allowing one run. She built on her strong showing from earlier in the day, throwing for five innings, surrendering one run on seven hits.
Similar to the first matcup between the teams, the game was also a pitcher’s duel –– resulting in a scoreless game through five innings. Schaefer took the mound in the top of the sixth, gave up a double to right field, and was pulled in favor of Beaubien. The baserunner advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly to right field.
The Seminoles scored one more run when infielder Jessie Warren took Beaubien deep to center field, increasing the lead to two runs.
Michigan couldn’t get anything going offensively, as they recorded only two hits throughout the game and were shutout 2-0.
Again, despite a strong performance, Schaefer recorded a loss.
“I thought that (Schaefer) made some great strides,” Hutchins said. “I was definitely pleased with that. She just needs to keep working away like everybody, she needs to keep working hard and improving every week.”
If the Wolverines hope to have success this season, they will have to not just rely on the solid pitching and defense that kept them competitive this weekend. Having two promising freshman pitchers give Michigan the potential to go far this season, so long as the team can put together strong offensive performances to match them.