ORLANDO, Fla. — It doesn’t always take a hard-hit ball to get a rally started.
Sometimes, all it takes is a couple runners to reach base in unconventional ways — especially when it flips the lineup card over.
On Friday against South Dakota State, that was exactly what the Michigan softball team needed. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the last two batters in the order reached base via a hit by pitch and a bunt single. With those runners on first and second, the top of the lineup broke the scoreless affair, manufacturing two runs and a lead the Wolverines never relinquished.
“The bottom of the order got it done,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “(Freshman utility player Annabelle Widra) getting hit by a pitch and getting on base, bases matter. It doesn’t matter how you get them.”
In a scoreless game, the Wolverines were running out of chances to put the first runs on the board. The heart of the order strung some hits together earlier in the game, but with no runners on prior to their at-bats, there was nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.
For the top of the Wolverines’ lineup to break through, they needed help from the bottom of the order — they needed someone to get on base.
And in the fifth inning, they got on.
Batting in the eighth slot, Widra opened the inning by taking a pitch off her elbow guard. Widra turned to the dugout and let out a fired-up scream, hyping her teammates up before running to first base. The top of the order was one bat closer to hitting with runners on, with just freshman shortstop Ella McVey ahead in the ninth slot.
Before stepping into the batter’s box, McVey looked to Hutchins for a sign.
“I told her, ‘there’s a kid on base, you’ve gotta stay in the box and get (the bunt) down,’ ” Hutchins said.
Heeding her coach’s words, McVey executed the bunt perfectly.
She placed the ball straight into no-man’s land, too far from any one fielder. Both the Jackrabbits’ first and third basemen converged on the bunt, but neither could get to it and make the throw to first with enough time. Widra easily reached second base, and McVey legged out the bunt single.
Not only did McVey put a runner in scoring position, she did so without sacrificing herself — giving Michigan an additional out to play with.
“The fact that she was safe was certainly a bonus, but we’re not trying to be safe there,” Hutchins said. “Honestly, we have not bunted as well as I know we can, so that one was huge. I told her it was key to the game.”
With two runners on and no outs, the top of the lineup capitalized on its chance to take the lead.
Ever-reliable graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt tracked a pitch coming in high and outside, and poked it off the end of her bat into center field for a single that loaded the bases. With the bases loaded, senior first baseman Lexie Blair broke the inning open, driving a hard line drive to left field for a two-run double.
And after reaching on the bunt single, McVey crossed the plate as the go-ahead run.
“The bottom of the order came through,” Hutchins said. “That’s what they need to do — help us get back to the top of the order.”
It’s one thing to just get back to the top of the order. It’s even better to get back to the top of the order without recording an out.
By getting on base — despite neither getting a traditional base hit — and putting the bats into the hands of the top of the order, Widra and McVey set the table for Michigan’s victory.