After five weeks of road tournaments, the No. 19 Michigan softball team (15-7-1) finally unlocked the gates to Alumni Field on Saturday afternoon. Senior right-hander Megan Betsa made sure her last home opener would count.
For the fourth time in her career — and the first since April of 2015 — Betsa threw a no-hitter en route to a 2-0 Wolverine victory over Kent State (8-11). The ace allowed just two walks and recorded 17 strikeouts, a new career high.
From the get-go, Betsa had complete command, fanning at least two Golden Flashes each inning while striking out the side in the third, sixth and seventh. The defense behind her had an easy outing as only four Kent State hitters put balls in play. Betsa was able to ride her early inning success all the way until her 117th and final pitch — fittingly another strikeout.
The Georgia native worked at a fast pace between pitches to stay in rhythm. Following her focus in practice this past week, she consistently attacked the strike zone instead of working around batters to force errant swings. This strategy mitigated the risk of high pitch and walk counts, both Achilles’ heels in previous seasons. Betsa maintained her poise when facing numerous counts that ran to three balls, almost all of which eventually resulted in strikeouts.
“She spun it through the zone,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Her whip is the key — when she whips, they swing — so she just kept that good process the whole game. She didn’t throw carefully; she threw right at them.”
Added Betsa: “It’s just making sure that I’m keeping my process throughout, from the first pitch to the last pitch. That’s what we’ve been talking about this week, having a good process all seven innings, instead of the first five and not the last two. I think a big thing was working through when I walk the batters, coming back and not letting that get to me.”
And when it started to become clear to Betsa, her teammates and Michigan fans that a no-hitter was a strong possibility, catcher Katie Alexander went out to the circle and calmed her battery partner with a simple reminder to breathe.
Despite Besta’s dominance, the Wolverines’ offense didn’t enjoy the same fortune, collecting just two hits, both by sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield.
Two hard-hit balls by senior center fielder Kelly Christner and another by sophomore right fielder Natalie Peters were stifled by defensive gems to keep the game scoreless. Christner’s blast to the warning track was hauled in by Kent State’s left fielder, who stuck her glove over her head, crashing into the outfield wall, yet still held onto the ball.
While the Golden Flashes’ defense that kept their pitcher in the game through the first four innings, miscues in the fifth ruined their chance to play spoiler.
With two outs, Michigan capitalized on two consecutive errors — a dropped fly ball in right center and a passed ball off the catcher’s glove and face mask — to score two unearned runs. That’s all the run support Betsa needed, as she retired six of the next seven batters — all via strikeout — to end the game.
Even with unlucky breaks on offense at the hands of a tough defense, Hutchins still applauded her team’s swings at the plate and composure throughout the contest.
“We had some better cuts that nothing happened in,” Hutchins said. “… And we’re definitely not using up any of our good luck early and we’re not peaking too early, but we’re just going to keep working. And I told the kids they have to expect nothing more than it’s going to be difficult. You have to show up and expect it to be difficult, and I thought they did a good job with that today.”
Twenty-two games into the season, the Wolverines finally played host. For a team that went 20-1 last year in Ann Arbor, familiar terrain may be the catalyst to a host of wins.
“We were so excited (to play at home),” Betsa said. “I think that’s why we had so much energy on the field today, and that really played into the way that we played. The score didn’t show it, but we had some really well-hit balls on offense, and everyone’s energy and attitude in the dugout was fantastic.”