Senior outfielder Lexie Blair stepped up to the plate with freshman outfielder Sierra Kersten on first. As the ball cracked off of her bat, it seemed like No. 20 Michigan would finally get a run. But when Northwestern third baseman Mac Dunlap grabbed Blair’s line drive and sent it toward first, Kersten couldn’t reach the bag and a double play ended the sixth inning.
The Wolverines knew Friday’s game against Northwestern would be hotly contested on both sides of the ball, and keeping up with their Big Ten rival would prove necessary to keep the game within reach. Those changes to contain the Wildcats offense proved unfruitful in its 4-1 loss, as the Wildcats limited Michigan’s offense.
The offense started the game slowly as Northwestern pitcher Danielle Williams blanked the Wolverines in the first two innings. Senior infielder Natalia Rodriguez made it on base after getting hit by a pitch ]n the third inning. That chance proved inconsequential as Northwestern second baseman Rachel Lewis tagged her out on a steal attempt. Rodriguez would be tagged out a second time in the fourth.
Senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien limited the first six batters’ opportunities when Northwestern stepped to the batter’s box, keeping a perfect slate through the first two innings. Both teams couldn’t adapt to the pitching early on, leaving the game wide open for either side.
But when the Wildcats slowed down the game and focused on putting the ball in play, Michigan couldn’t make effective changes that led to offensive production. Williams breezed through the pressure and took control of the game for the Wildcats. She took the lead in 18 out of 21 at-bats, a stat Michigan coach Carol Hutchins noted.
“She doesn’t have to throw many strikes to get us out,” Hutchins said. “And we’ve taken strikes and we’re swinging at her stuff.”
When the stalemate finally gave way as Northwestern scored in the third inning, the Wolverines continued to struggle at the plate. The bottom of the order put the ball in play, but the Wildcats’ fielders made sure those didn’t turn into hits.
Things changed when senior right-hander Sarah Schaefer took the mound. After Schaefer delivered a three-up, three-down performance to kick off the sixth inning, the offense fed off of that energy. It seemed like they finally relaxed at the plate after struggling
Senior third baseman Taylor Bump led off the sixth inning as batters focused on hittable balls. That focus was short lived as Blair’s at bat turned into a double play. Williams controlled the inning with confidence and sent one of the Big Ten’s best hitters to the dugout empty-handed. Michigan tried to adapt, but those changes couldn’t break the Wolverines out of their rut.
Northwestern kept Michigan stagnant offensively in large part due to the Wolverines’ ineffective batting changes. Williams’ ability to get outs without many strikes stayed constant no matter how Michigan’s batters approached their appearances.
“I think we let a lot of strikes go by, myself and a lot of other batters,” Blair said. “It’s just about jumping on that first pitch, that first hittable (pitch), so that’s the way (Williams) got ahead the entire game, really.”
Now Michigan turns to its remaining three games with a chance to make up for its stagnant performance. The Wolverines will surely have to adapt in order to get a different outcome from tonight’s.
“We have three games left — we’re not going to let this get to our heads,” Blair said. “This is a four game series for a reason.”