The No. 2 Michigan softball team scored one run against Illinois State on Saturday. Considering that the team averages in excess of eight runs per game, it was a paltry amount for the free-scoring Wolverines.
Michigan (20-2) tallied seven hits, but left 10 runners on base. Senior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence registered another multi-hit game, but no other Wolverine matched her.
While the offensive performance was lacking, Megan Betsa chalked up another story in the circle as she recorded her finest performance of the season to ensure a 1-0 Wolverine win over Illinois State (8-17) as she gave up only three hits.
“Leaving runners on base is a concern,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “But there are days when our pitching staff picks up our hitting staff.”
Last week, Betsa spoke about her frustrations with her recent lack of command over the zone, as she was struggling to get out of innings.
“I was throwing too many walks and I was getting behind in the count,” Betsa said. “I focused in practice on being able to get ahead of the hitters.”
Betsa refocused and honed her command against the Redbirds, as she did not give up a single run while racking up 11 strikeouts.
“It really started in practice this week as we set up a (strike zone net) so I could focus on hitting the zone and going through my process,” Betsa said.
While Betsa reasserted her spot as Michigan’s go-to pitcher, the Wolverine hitters put up their second-lowest output of the season. Lawrence kept up her torrid pace at the leadoff spot, but the rest of the Michigan lineup failed to follow suit. Sophomore first baseman Tera Blanco and junior left fielder Kelly Christner were both held hitless, the first time that has happened in a game this season. Senior second baseman Sierra Romero had an unusually quiet day, recording only one hit.
Despite the struggles, senior right fielder Kelsey Susalla provided the timely hitting that Michigan needed.
Lawrence singled to start the third inning and made her way to third base quickly, courtesy of Romero reaching first on an error. Then, Susalla hit a sacrifice fly to center field, giving the Wolverines the only run they needed on Betsa’s big day.
Next for Michigan was a matchup with Dayton (7-10). The offensive problems of Saturday morning quickly subsided as the trio of Lawrence, junior shortstop Abby Ramirez and Romero put the Wolverines on the board in the first inning.
In the second inning, Christner reached base with a bunt, Sobczak roped a single up the middle and senior pinch runner Olivia Richvalsky and Christner scored.
With a 3-0 lead after two innings, Michigan added to it in the fourth as the bottom of the lineup found its swing. After going hitless against Illinois State, both sophomore first baseman Aidan Falk and freshman infielder Faith Canfield notched hits and scored, increasing the Wolverine lead to five.
Good pitching was not confined to just Betsa, however, as Blanco also put up her most dominant performance of the season.
Struggling early in the season after transitioning back to a pitching role from predominantly playing first base last season, Blanco seemed to put it all together against the Flyers. Like Betsa, Blanco did not give up a single walk and went the full seven innings.
Blanco, who is hitting a staggering .426, added to the lead in the seventh inning as she ripped a single into right field that made it 6-0.
“It is not that difficult doing both hitting and pitching,” Blanco said of pulling double duty. “At times, I do not get all the cuts everyone else gets as I have to rush around but it really is not too hard.”
With a home game against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, Michigan is ready to take the field for the first time in Ann Arbor this season. It has been a long 22-game stretch on the road, but indeed a fruitful one that has seen the Wolverines cement their place at No. 2 in the rankings.
“This season is a long journey and it evolves,” Hutchins said. “I feel that our team has come really come together, but (they) need to just enjoy themselves.”