The ball looked like it might never land.
It soared through the air, high and deep, taking its good sweet time before finally landing in center field — of the baseball stadium.
Senior first baseman Tera Blanco circled the bases. Her teammates embraced her in a huddle at home plate.
No doubt about it.
From the beginning, the No. 17 Michigan softball team (3-1 Big Ten, 27-7 overall) had one goal: score a run every inning. For many teams, it would have been too tough a task, but right off the bat in their 11-1, five-inning victory over Purdue (1-4, 8-26), the Wolverines were up to the challenge.
Leading off the game, junior second baseman Faith Canfield worked a 3-0 count before shooting a single past the shortstop and into left field. Michigan seized the opportunity, scoring three runs on a wild pitch, a single from sophomore third baseman Madison Uden and a walk by junior catcher Katie Alexander.
“It just gets the whole momentum of the game going, and it gives everyone a little bit of confidence,” Canfield said. “ … Showing everyone that we can jump on this pitcher, just a huge confidence-booster.”
And that confidence came in droves. After the Wolverines left the bases loaded in the first, Canfield led off the second by dropping a surprise bunt for a single. She promptly stole second and moved to third on a groundout. Blanco had several hard-hit balls go just foul, but she didn’t relent. She fouled off seven pitches — six with two strikes — before drawing a walk.
“You get to see everything the pitcher throws,” Blanco said. “It actually helps the dugout to see what pitches she has and everything. It kinda kept me in the zone.”
From there, all it took was a groundout from freshman designated player Lou Allan to extend the lead to 4-0.
Michigan tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the third on back-to-back RBI singles and a sacrifice fly. When Blanco deposited a home run into the outfield of Ray Fisher Stadium to extend the lead to 7-0, it looked like a run-rule victory was in sight. But no win comes without a little adversity, and this time it was freshman right-hander Sarah Schaefer who struggled.
After taking over for freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien — who tossed three shutout innings — Schaefer got herself into a jam with runners on second and third and nobody out. She worked out of it, but in her second frame, she wasn’t so lucky. After a walk and two singles, freshman shortstop Natalia Rodriguez couldn’t quite corral a hard-hit grounder. Purdue was on the board.
“I just, both times, had to go out and give her the pep talk of, ‘You’re in charge, act like it,’ ” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “You throw every pitch to beat them. Looked like she was throwing a lot of pitches uncertainly.”
But the Wolverines made sure Schaefer knew they had her back and met the setback with a triumph.
With two on, two outs and Michigan leading 8-1, Blanco strode to the plate with a singular focus: end the game. She waited for her pitch, swung and connected.
And there it was. Just like her first home run, this one sailed up and up to straightaway center. It bounced off the camera tower to give the Wolverines their run-rule victory.
“We’re just focusing on having fun and then just going out and attacking the game,” Canfield said. “And I think that’s what’s giving us confidence is that attack that we have. … Just staying relaxed and trusting that we’re good enough. Just going with it.”