Rutgers pinch hitter Megan Herka walked to the plate ready to play spoiler.
No. 18 Michigan had denied the Scarlet Knights a spot on base all game. Now, marking the potential last batter of the day, it was Herka’s job to ruin senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien’s perfect slate.
It looked like Herka was going to do just that, as she took three straight balls to start her plate appearance. The game wasn’t on the line, but a career milestone was. Facing a tough count, Beaubien kept her composure.
“If I threw another ball, I was gonna walk her anyway,” Beaubien said. “So I’m just staying loose and telling myself that if I stay loose and I throw this pitch, then it’s going to be a good one and trusting that they’re not going to hit it.”
Feeding Herka a strike and forcing a foul tip, Beaubien worked Herka back into the corner the Scarlet Knights had been stuck in all game. The final pitch careened toward junior catcher Hannah Carson and nestled itself in the well-worn leather of her glove.
As Beaubien leapt into the air to celebrate an achievement that most pitchers can only dream of, Michigan celebrated an 11-0 win that could only be described as dominant in every measurable way.
A key part of that was the Wolverines’ defense. Out of 15 batters, 13 were put out by the field. As much as the perfect game is an accomplishment for Beaubien, it also speaks to Michigan’s ability to back up its pitchers.
“I give a lot of credit to the defense today,” Beaubien said. “I didn’t have a lot of strikeouts, but the defense is making some great plays so I think that was a really big team effort and proud of my outfielders and I think everyone did a great job.”
Part of that team effort came from freshman catcher Keke Tholl, who made a spectacular catch on a foul ball in the fourth inning. First baseman Gabrielle Callaway tipped the ball in the air toward the first base line. Tholl popped out of her stance and chased it, diving forward to make the play.
The outcome suggests Rutgers’ at-bats were lackluster all game, but hitters were able to put the ball in play, sometimes deep. Every time that happened, though, they couldn’t find the gap and the Wolverines made an out.
No matter what the fielders could do to help her, the perfect game came down to superb pitching from Beaubien. The Scarlet Knights couldn’t get comfortable at the plate, and the edge that she had gained in Friday’s win meant she was attacking everyone that stepped in the batter’s box. Rutgers was forced to deal with poor pitches that left them empty handed.
Often, those led to quick, easy outs. Beaubien’s two strikeouts over the five innings is an uncharacteristically low count considering she averages around 9.88 strikeouts per seven innings. She didn’t need to get many, though, because the Scarlet Knights did the work for her.
In fact, the biggest challenge for Beaubien to overcome may have been keeping focused on the game itself rather than the upcoming milestone. That meant returning to the methodology that has guided the Wolverines all season.
“I was just trying to focus on one pitch at a time,” Beaubien said. “I didn’t want to get too excited about that possibility. The second you get too excited and start thinking about that, that’s when you’re most likely gonna give it up.”
Beaubien’s perfect outing was a fitting way to end what could be the last home start of her career. As the NCAA Tournament looms and Michigan focuses on winning its upcoming regional, this game proved that Beaubien’s not done yet.
“I tell you, there’s some things I want from Megan Beaubien that are bigger than that,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I want her to play on the biggest stage. And I want her to help take us there.”