Sensing continued dominance from Alex Storako, the crowd at Alumni Field rose to their feet as the junior right-hander stared down Danielle Williams. With the tying run on first in the low-scoring 2-0 game in the top of the seventh, Storako was one pitch away from sending Northwestern home with a 3-1 series loss.
She fired a high fastball on the 1-2 pitch, sending Williams chasing, swinging and missing. Storako threw off her face-shield in excitement as the crowd erupted. The final at-bat was indicative of another stellar performance from Storako, as her control of the circle powered the No. 20 Michigan softball team to a key 2-0 win over the Wildcats.
“I love getting fired up after a strikeout,” Storako said. “(A) big one, little one … anything at all, I just love to have a lot of fun out there.”
With Northwestern left-handers Morgan Newport, Sydney Supple, and Danielle Williams limiting the Wolverines’ offensive production in the Sunday afternoon matchup, it was Storako who proved to be the difference, shutting down the Northwestern lineup in the strong showing. She struck out 10 batters while surrendering only four hits and one walk in the complete game shut-out, squashing the Wildcats’ hopes at splitting the crucial weekend series.
With Northwestern taking the first game of the series on Friday and the Wolverines sweeping the double–header on Saturday, it was on Storako to deliver in the pivotal rubber match. She delivered.
The win marked Storako’s team-leading and career-high 15th victory on the year, as she builds on the best season of her tenure thus far. Storako displayed why she possesses the best ERA in the Big Ten (at .49), keeping the high-powered Wildcat offense off-balance and at-bay.
Storako commanded the game right from the start. Facing the opening gauntlet of Wildcat sluggers Skyler Shellmyer, Rachel Lewis, and Jordyn Rudd, Storako set the tone for the game.
After striking out Shellmyer and walking Lewis, Storako bounced back. She struck out the dangerous Rudd — who tormented the Wolverines’ other ace, junior left-hander Meghan Beabien, with a 4-for-6 showing over the weekend — then struck out infielder Angela Zedak to complete the three-strikeout first inning.
With runners on first and second in the third inning, she fired an 0-2 pitch at Zedak, who belted a laser-beam to sophomore second baseman Julia Jiminez. Jiminez played it on a hop and fired to first base to end the jam.
From there on out, it was smooth sailing for Storako. She looked calm and collected on the mound, and denied Northwestern the opportunity to develop any kind of offense. In the final four innings, Storako silenced the Wildcats’ bats. She allowed only one hit and one walk after working her way out of the third inning threat.
“I thought (Alex) was a little more calm and even keeled today,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “You try to remind these kids that every game we play counts the same. … You can’t make it about another team.”
When balls made it in play, Storako was aided by high-level fielding as well.
In the top of the fourth inning, Storako locked into a battle with Nikki Cuchran. On a 3-2 count, Cuchran belted a low grounder towards first base. Senior first baseman Lou Allan sprawled to her right to snag the ball into her glove. She then leaped to her left, laying-out and slamming the base, beating Cuchran to the bag by half-a-step.
The fielding showcase continued in the seventh, with senior third baseman Taylor Bump making a diving catch in foul territory for the second-to-last out of the game.
“Watching those plays is so much fun,” Storako said. “(They) help me trust my pitches so much more, because I don’t need to strike everyone out.”
Even with stellar fielding, it was the Alex Storako show at Alumni Field. She put together a pitching clinic to widen Michigan’s lead in the Big Ten standings, stifling Northwestern in the process.
“Our pitching is our strength,” Hutchins said. “So (I) give credit to our pitching.”