With the score tied at zero in the bottom of the eighth against Drake, senior catcher Hannah Carson stepped up to the plate. Graduate transfer outfielder Kristina Burkhardt stood on second, and the chance for a walkoff loomed large. Carson loaded up and pulled a 2-1 pitch into right-center, scoring Burkhardt and securing the No. 19 Michigan softball team’s third win of the weekend.
With her hit, Carson sealed senior pitcher Alex Storako’s first career no-hitter — a feat Storako managed to keep alive into extra innings as the Wolverines struggled to score.
The No. 19 Michigan softball team (13-6 overall) left the John Cropp Classic with a split series against an SEC foe in No. 10 Kentucky (16-2 overall), as well as wins against Kent State (6-7 overall) and the aforementioned Bulldogs (4-9 overall). Storako’s no-hitter was the highlight of a weekend where the Wolverines showed their buy-in across the board, despite some inconsistency.
“She’s always throwing great games,” Carson said. “ … But this was her first no-hitter and I think it finally showed off all her hard work. … She definitely deserved (it).”
With a no-hitter and the game on the line, Carson remained composed.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Carson said. “I felt calm, and I knew Lauren (was) behind me… I knew if I didn’t get it done that she was going to.”
Throughout the weekend, Carson and her teammates reiterated that the team is fully bought in and ready to continue their improvement as the season continues. But buying in does not necessarily guarantee results.
The two games against the Wildcats seemed to feature by entirely different Wolverine squads. At points, the team seemed to click on all cylinders, while at others, the early-season batting ailments seemed to again rear their heads.
In Thursday’s game against the Wildcats, Michigan cruised to an 8-0 victory behind a two-hit shutout by Storako. Burkhardt put together a three RBI performance, and a home run from junior first baseman Lauren Esman all but sealed the game in the sixth.
But on Friday, those bats were gone, and shades of the opening weekend returned. The Wolverines managed a reasonable nine hits, but were unable to get hits in situations where runners were in scoring positions. Graduate pitcher Meghan Beuabien continued her season-long struggles and was pulled in the third inning in favor of freshman pitcher Lauren Derkowski.
Back-and-forth affairs like Michigan faced over the weekend can go a long way in shaping a team’s identity early in the season. Even so, amidst the weekend’s tumultuous games, Michigan attempted to stay grounded.
“I think being put in these moments and having those opportunities is only gonna lift us later (in) the season,” Burkhardt said.
Splitting a series against a top-10 team away from home is a good sign for the Wolverines’ development. At some point, Michigan will need to establish consistency, but for now, it’s bought in.
The fires of these early weekends can help forge a stronger team, but that team has yet to fully materialize.
The question is when and if that team will emerge.