When an opposing lineup comes to Alumni Field mired in a slump, the last pitcher it wants to see is Meghan Beaubien.
Coming into the weekend, the sophomore left-hander had already posted stellar numbers at home — 23 strikeouts, zero walks and .140 batting average against across 16.1 innings — for a Michigan softball team that has now won seven straight games on its own turf.
On the other hand, Nebraska limped into the program’s first-ever series in Ann Arbor bogged down by a cold spell. The Cornhuskers hadn’t scored in 22 consecutive innings, and Beaubien was eager to extend their drought.
The reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year did just that, suffocating the opposition in each game of the series.
Beaubien hurled three complete-game no-hitters a season ago, but the accomplishment of a perfect game eluded her during her freshman campaign. She came close to the feat in a valiant effort against No. 8 Florida State last February but ultimately fell two outs shy.
When she toed the rubber on Sunday, history repeated itself.
Backed by a trio of third-inning home runs, the Wolverines plated 12 runs through the first four frames. The offensive explosion set up a run rule-shortened contest, meaning Beaubien only had to pitch five innings. Whispers began to run rampant through the Alumni Field bleachers when she didn’t allow a baserunner through the first four innings.
But when she trotted out to the circle to put the finishing touches on what would’ve been perfection, her first mistake of the afternoon proved damning. She left a pitch over the heart of the plate with one out, and Nebraska designated hitter Lindsey Walljasper capitalized. She deposited a double into the left-center field gap, putting a tally in the Cornhuskers’ hit column for the first time all afternoon.
For the second time in her career, Beaubien’s chances of perfection dissipated two outs away from the finish line. Nonetheless, her dominance underscored Michigan’s ability to overwhelm the opposition.
“I felt good today,” Beaubien said. “I was throwing loose. I don’t think I was trying too hard and I was just relaxed while attacking hitters. That’s when it goes well.”
Earlier in the weekend, Beaubien started the three-game set with a gem in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. She hurled a complete game one-hit shutout, striking out 10 Cornhuskers in the process. Beaubien kept her team in a scoreless tie through four innings before her offense produced eight runs in the ensuing two frames, ending the game in run-rule fashion.
During the fifth inning of the twin bill’s latter half, freshman right-hander Alex Storako found herself in hot water. After surrendering a two-run home run that trimmed the Wolverines’ lead to three in the fourth inning, Storako allowed a one-out single to Nebraska second baseman Sarah Yocom in the fifth frame.
Despite tossing six innings earlier in the afternoon, Hutchins turned to Beaubien to finish the game.
From the Cornhuskers’ perspective, the pitching change was deflating. Just as they were beginning to see success against Storako, Michigan summoned its death star. Beaubien, as expected, dashed the Cornhuskers’ hope of a comeback.
Since the beginning of the month, Beaubien’s ERA has improved from 3.00 to 1.72. This weekend, she notched 18 strikeouts across 13.2 scoreless innings.
“We’re pleased to see that she’s moving in a good direction,” Hutchins said. “We’re pleased to see that her changeup is becoming a much better pitch for her. It really makes her great.”
Though she knocked on the door of perfection for the second time in her career, the near-achievement was the last thing Hutchins had on her mind.
“You don’t say ‘no-hitter’ in the middle of a game, and you don’t say that in the middle of the season,” Hutchins said. “But (Beaubien) seems to be getting into a pretty good groove here this time of year.”