When looking back at the No. 19 Michigan softball team’s victory over Drake on Saturday, the attention immediately turns to senior right-hander Alex Storako and senior catcher Hannah Carson. Rightfully so, as Storako delivered a masterclass for her first career no-hitter, and Carson won the game for the Wolverines with a walkoff single.
But behind the scenes, graduate transfer outfielder Kristina Burkhardt made her mark on the game at every turn. She was the only one who crossed the plate in the 1-0 win, scoring the game-winning run just three pitches after knocking a double into left-center field.
All weekend long at the John Cropp Invitational, Burkhardt was a beacon of consistency for Michigan. While her teammates created highlight reel moments, she worked quietly, anchoring the outfield and frequently getting on base. By the end of the weekend, she racked up a 7-for-14 line, recording at least one extra base hit in every game and accounting for 10 of the Wolverines’ 24 total runs.
That production played a role in getting her teammates involved.
“Knowing the person behind you is going to get it done just puts less pressure on you,” Burkhardt said. “We were able to swing freely this week and it really showed with all the hits”
In the weekend’s biggest games, Burkhardt served as that steadying force behind her teammates. In Michigan’s first game against No. 10 Kentucky, she broke open the game with a two-RBI double in the second inning to put the Wolverines up three. In their second contest against the Wildcats, she kept hitting while others couldn’t. Burkhardt picked up two doubles and accounted for both of the Wolverines’ runs, scoring one and driving in another.
“When I step into the box for these games, I just want to show my team how calm you can be in these situations,” Burkhardt said. “I think a lot of that just comes with experience.”
In addition to being a veteran leader at the plate, Burkhardt set the tone on the field, too. After extending Michigan’s lead with a double against Kentucky on Thursday, she dove for a low line drive to center, snagging the ball with the tip of her glove for the first out of the second inning. Besides the web gem, she made every routine play she needed to, instilling trust in her pitching staff.
And with a pitching staff that included more freshmen than ever — right-hander Lauren Derkowski and right-hander and utility player Annabelle Widra combined for nine innings pitched — that sure-handed defense mattered.
On the offensive side, Widra and freshman shortstop Ella McVey started all four games. For these young players with growing roles, Burkhardt’s experience proved invaluable.
“Talking to some of the freshmen, in their first time playing against these elite teams, I’m just being a calming presence for them,” Burkhardt said. “One of my focuses this year has just been how I can be a steady presence that some of my teammates need in those pressure situations.”
In every facet of her game, Burkhardt lifted pressure off her teammates this weekend. When Carson came to the plate in the eighth inning against Drake, a situation that would have otherwise been pressure-filled wasn’t. Following Burkhardt’s double, Carson’s calmness prevailed.
“I didn’t have a hit at that point in the game, but I didn’t feel any pressure,” Carson said. “I just felt calm.”
Much like her teammates, she had Burkhardt to thank for that.