For the second time in the last week, Faith Canfield used her leadoff at-bat to jump on a pitch over the heart of the plate. And for the second time in the last week, the senior second baseman clubbed the ball over the Alumni Field fence.
The home run was all the No. 25 Michigan softball team needed to defeat in-state foe Western Michigan (7-12), 3-0.
Just two days removed from recording a pair of wins and a save in last weekend’s sweep of Kent State, sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien picked up right where she left off. The reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year was locked in from the start, retiring the first two Broncos with emphatic punchouts and surrendering only one hit in the first four innings.
When the Wolverines (16-10) tacked on a pair of fifth-inning insurance runs, Beaubien didn’t even need them. She kept the Broncos off the scoreboard all afternoon, tallying a season-high 13 strikeouts along the way. Beaubien finished with a four-hit shutout in her ninth complete game of the season.
“(Beaubien) is throwing with a clear mind,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She’s throwing with conviction. Her speed is up, her changeup is on. It’s tough to be clear-minded when you’re a young kid, so part of it is a learning curve.”
When junior right fielder Haley Hoogenraad stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, she had the chance to give Michigan a sizable early cushion. Hoogenraad dug into the batter’s box, let her bat rest on her shoulder and crouched into a formidable batting stance.
Unlike Canfield, who worked a full count before unleashing a big cut, Hoogenraad took a swing at the first offering she saw from Broncos’ starting pitcher Reily Galloway. The barrel of her bat wound up in front of the offspeed pitch, resulting in a soft ground ball down the third base line.
Despite putting four runners on base in their first crack at Galloway, the Wolverines only mustered one run from the threat. For returning players, the team’s failure to pull away brought back memories of last season’s shortcomings against Western Michigan.
Last May, the Broncos played spoiler when they made a late-season trip to Ann Arbor. Despite having 15 fewer victories than the Wolverines, Western Michigan amassed 13 hits en route to an 8-2 win — its first against Michigan since 2012. The loss put a dent in the Wolverines’ postseason momentum.
This season, sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien made sure it wouldn’t happen again.
Since her ERA reached a career-high 3.95 in a Feb. 22 loss to Stanford, Beaubien’s mark has gradually trended downward towards her 1.16 clip from a season ago. After Tuesday’s dominant showing, Beaubien will enter this weekend’s conference-opening slate with an ERA of 1.99.
“I think from the start of the year to now, my mental process has gotten a lot better,” Beaubien said. “Lately, I feel like it’s been really good, like this past weekend and today. For the most part, I have to forget last year and understand that it doesn’t matter and this is a completely new year. I just need to work hard and do my best and be what I can be this year to the best of my ability.”
After Canfield’s home run, Michigan’s offense remained dormant until the bottom of the fifth inning, when junior catcher Abby Skvarce made a pinch-hit appearance. With sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez perched on second base after swiping her seventh bag of the season, Skvarce laced a ground ball under the glove of Western Michigan shortstop Brooke Wyman that trickled deep enough into left field for Hutchins to wave Rodriguez home.
The successful small-ball strategy allowed Michigan to pull away.
“It manufactured a run,” Hutchins said. “We weren’t swinging very well today, we were definitely not very offensive, so you have to find a way to manufacture runs. One of those is to steal their bases to put us in position. We get a pinch-hit single and it was a difference maker.”
Just one batter later, freshman left fielder Lexie Blair — who earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors last week after posting an .875 batting average and eight RBI — poked a ground ball through the gap on the Broncos’ right side of the infield. As the ball made its way onto the right-field grass, senior center fielder Natalie Peters rounded third. The relay throw came in from Broncos’ outfielder Machenzie Swinehart, but not before Peters’ right hand grazed the edge of home plate on her slide under the catcher’s glove.
Though Peters’ slide put the game out of reach once and for all, it was Beaubien who kept Western Michigan at bay all along.