On Friday, the Michigan softball team played an uncomplicated game.
The Wolverines had a serviceable pitching performance from graduate left-hander Meghan Beaubien who allowed just one three-run shot. But a dismal performance at the plate with only three hits proved the difference in the game.
These two factors added up to a 3-2 loss to Minnesota. It was a simple calculation really: Decent but imperfect pitching plus bad hitting does not equate to victory.
On Saturday, Michigan played an incredibly similar game to the one it did on Friday. Once again, the bats were mostly silent — managing just one run and rarely even threatening to score. And for the second night in a row, what kept the Wolverines in the game was solid pitching.
But there was one key difference that I believe made Saturday’s performance a victory over the Golden Gophers as opposed to a repeat of Friday’s loss, and that’s the fact that senior right-hander Alex Storako was on the mound for Michigan.
On Saturday, it didn’t matter that the Wolverines batters struggled to get on base or that their offense was essentially dormant, because those shortcomings were wiped clean by Storako’s dominance.
In postgame interviews, Michigan players credited the win to their grit.
“It was just a tough, gritty win,” graduate second baseman Melina Livingston said. “I think that really embodies what our team is. So tough, so gritty.”
And Storako agreed.
“It just took a lot of grit from everyone on that field and in the dugout,” Storako said.
And they aren’t wrong. By all means, a 1-0 victory in which a team forces 10 runners to be stranded on base is gritty. But I don’t think that Saturday was a gritty Michigan performance as much as it was a gritty Alex Storako performance.
There is no denying that Storako, almost single handedly, won this game for the Wolverines. And she did so in a grinding and slow fashion.
Take for example how she opened the game. She allowed three straight hits to load the bases with no outs before recording two strikeouts and a flyout to come out of the inning unscathed.
But despite the fact that she was stable for the rest of the game, it was by no means a cakewalk. She was consistently down in counts before battling back, and she subsequently had to throw 120 pitches to make it through the game.
Storako’s performance was the textbook definition of gritty. It was ugly at points and nerve wracking, but above all else it was effective.
Michigan’s overall performance on the other hand, was less so.
What made Saturday an uplifting win instead of a discouraging second straight loss wasn’t the spectacular defensive plays nor the offense showing up and battling. It was Storako.
While I don’t want to discount Beaubien or any of the other Wolverine pitchers, I firmly believe that if anyone other than Storako had been in the circle today, Michigan would not be celebrating a victory. With the sluggish offensive production, that wouldn’t have been possible.
And that’s a problem, because the Wolverines other pitching options are by no means bad.
You could look at this in two ways. You could walk away from today’s win and think, “Wow, Michigan is lucky to have Alex Storako,” or you could think “Wow, Michigan got lucky.”
I left Saturday’s game wondering if it’s the latter.
I have seen enough of the Wolverines’ softball to know that they don’t always get this lucky. Storako — who has displayed her talent and abilities all season — is fallible. She throws a lot of balls that get turned into home runs which has proven to be costly, especially when Michigan can’t score like it couldn’t on Saturday.
Today was the second straight game in which the Wolverines struggled to produce offensively. And if tomorrow’s game marks a third lackluster performance, they’re likely going to end this series by losing the rubber match.
As this somewhat underwhelming season draws to a close and the chances of Michigan achieving its preseason goals fade, the Wolverines need grit to get to where they want to go.
And it can’t come only from Storako.