Thais Gonzalez isn’t your stereotypical hero.
The sophomore has all of 28 at-bats this season, just three of which resulted in hits. She’s started 10 games, has four runs batted in and has an on-base percentage of .219.
On Wednesday against Michigan State, Gonzalez didn’t have a hit. She didn’t have an RBI, and she didn’t get on base. But with her legs, she made all the difference for the No. 17 Michigan softball team, scoring the only run of the game.
For both teams, offense was hard to come by. But the Wolverines demonstrated that if they couldn’t create separation on offense, they’d do it on the basepaths. And ultimately, what separated Michigan from the Spartans in a 1-0 win was its ability to make the most of its few opportunities.
In the bottom of the fourth, senior first baseman Tera Blanco sent a ground ball through the third baseman’s legs for a single. She was pulled for a pinch-runner, senior outfielder Nikki Wald, but there, things didn’t go according to plan. Instead of stealing second or taking the extra base on a hit, Wald was tagged out on a fielder’s choice off the bat of freshman designated player Lou Allan.
But the Wolverines got a second chance.
Sophomore third baseman Madison Uden laid down what looked like a sacrifice bunt, but she sped down to first base and beat the throw. Gonzalez pinch-ran for Allan, and suddenly it was first and second, one out. Gonzalez knew what she had to do.
“When she put me in at second, I knew she just wanted me to score on anything on the ground,” Gonzalez said. “So just trusting her instincts and finding home plate somehow.”
Junior catcher Katie Alexander came to the plate and slapped a ground ball hard behind second base. For a fleeting moment, it seemed it would get through for a single, but it was instead collected by the shortstop, who threw to first for the easy out.
Except Michigan State paused, and Gonzalez never stopped running until she had slid in under the tag at home. Michigan had its first — and ultimately, only — run of the game.
“It wasn’t much decision-making (to send her),” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “I saw the ball going up the middle, and I did not see the kid field it. I was sending her — I thought the ball was getting through and midstream I realized she actually had it and I thought, ‘We’re gonna keep going,’ and we snuck it in on them.”
The two teams combined for three baserunners the rest of the game. Freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien took control from there, and the Wolverines had their victory.
That was all it took. Michigan hustled while the Spartans hesitated. And with their baserunning, the Wolverines manufactured the run — and the win.
“It’s just a matter of taking advantage of your opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “We hadn’t really gotten a lot of runners into scoring position, so … you just really wanted to make sure you were taking good jumps off the bag and taking advantage of every opportunity you got.”