As fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump stepped into the batter’s box on Friday, it was clear a breakthrough was necessary.
In extra innings, bleeding only one run would result in another conference loss. So the No. 22 Michigan softball team could not afford to strand runners in scoring position.
For the Wolverines (26-13 overall, 6-6 Big Ten), Bump’s sacrifice reach sparked a series-defining offensive shift that pushed them to 2-1 on their roadtrip against Maryland (22-18, 8-4).
While it’s easier to picture a breakthrough coming in the form of a powerful swing, Bump seized on her alternative strengths. She laid down a bunt a few feet in front of home plate, allowing graduate second baseman Melina Livingston to slide into home — ultimately the game-deciding run in a 5-3 win.
“As a big power hitter, people don’t necessarily expect a lot of bunts to come off my bat, but I love bunting,” Bump said. “I think it’s something that is often put on the backburner a little bit … but I live for those moments. The opportunity to have a suicide squeeze moment — that’s huge.”
As the imperfect record suggests, Michigan didn’t go without paying the price beforehand. The Wolverines suffered a 5-1 loss to the Terrapins on Thursday after stranding 10 runners.
“Sometimes players end up trying to get hits as opposed to just tough through an at-bat and make solid contact,” Michigan associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “I think that was the mental adjustment that we made (Friday), where we were able to rally through some of those tough at-bats with two outs.”
After Friday’s game-winning bunt it was an entirely different story, and this was reflected as much in the circle as at the plate. Maryland’s scoring that earned its sole win came from a two-run homer in the first inning and a rally in the fifth that ended senior right-hander Alex Storako’s weekend. On Friday, fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien weathered the storm.
Beaubien entered the sixth inning with the bases loaded and gave up only one hit. While the Terrapins tied the game, she held Maryland scoreless the rest of the way.
Then, Beaubien’s pitching on Saturday proved much less stressful. An RBI double from Bump and a throwing error pushed the Wolverines to a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning. Beaubien retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning, and the path to a 9-3 rout was set.
“I thought it was really fun to win that type of game in extra innings, but (Saturday) it was fun in a different way,” Beaubien said. “It’s always fun to watch our offense go off and to watch people just hit the ball really well.”
Recording a 2-1 split makes series takeaways a lot more ambiguous, especially when late high-notes juxtapose the further doom of another Big Ten loss.
But big moments can carry, and they did for Michigan this weekend.
“We’re positive and sometimes you just need a little bit of something to go your way,” Tholl said. “Maybe that comes by way of our squeeze bunt. It could change momentum one way or the other, and I think it could change the momentum for the next week or next month for us.”
This weekend began as a continuation of some of the Wolverines’ struggles, but execution from Bump and Beaubien was the shift they needed.