Senior right-hander Megan Betsa threw a nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning. Junior right-hander Tera Blanco hit a three-run homer and had a solid showing in the circle. The Michigan softball team scored eight runs on six hits. And the Wolverines are riding a five-game win streak — the longest of their season.
All of the pieces are finally coming together, and just in time for conference play. According to coach Carol Hutchins, the team’s hard work has made the difference.
“We’ve had a lot of kids coming in extra in the last week,” Hutchins said. “Their desire to get better is what a coach wants to see, so we’re just working to get better. We’re a better team than we were a week ago.”
In their fifth consecutive home win and final game prior to Big Ten play, the 19th-ranked Wolverines (19-7-1) made use of extra-base hits, toppling Eastern Michigan, 8-2, Wednesday afternoon.
Though Michigan and the Eagles (11-12) were close with six and five hits, respectively, the Wolverines consistently capitalized on runners in scoring position. Eastern Michigan’s offense failed to do the same, and woke up solely in the fourth inning.
After earning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors following a 30-strikeout, one-hit weekend, Betsa took a break with Blanco starting in the circle for the second day in a row. Blanco set a commanding tone from the start, striking out the first Eagle batter who stepped up to the plate.
In the field, Michigan wasn’t fazed by an Eastern Michigan single that followed the strikeout, as the Wolverines promptly ended the top of the first moments later with a 4-6-3 double play.
Michigan carried this intensity to the plate, wasting no time to get numbers on the board. From the leadoff spot, sophomore right fielder Natalie Peters hit a hard-bouncing blooper over third base that proved too much for the Eagles’ defense, resulting in an inside-the-park homer. Not only was this type of home run unique, but for the leadoff slap-hitter, it was the first of any kind in her collegiate career.
“Usually, since it was a blooper hit, I might be able to get two (bases),” Peters said. “And then I saw (the third baseman) missed it, so I kept going.”
The Wolverines would see an offensive awakening again in the third, with sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield and senior centerfielder Kelly Christner posting back-to-back RBI, widening the gap to 3-0.
With Canfield on second and Christner on first, Blanco drilled a bomb to the right-field bleachers, posting her second home run of the season and driving in three more runs to put Michigan ahead, 6-0.
But just as Blanco began to look poised at the plate, she saw a decline in consistency in the circle. With the first two Eastern Michigan batters on second and third in the fourth, the Eagles cranked an RBI single followed by a double steal, scoring the only two runs they would see all game. While Eastern Michigan had only one hit before that point, it added four hits to its count in the top of the fourth inning.
Despite Blanco’s performance in the fourth inning, Hutchins had nothing but praise for the right-hander’s overall showing in the game.
“I’m pleased,” Hutchins said. “I feel like Tera’s really settling into her role as a starting pitcher for us. She got out of that inning, and it didn’t seem to faze her.”
Though the score was 6-2 with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, junior first baseman Aidan Falk gave Michigan extra insurance. Taking advantage of runners at first and second, Falk slammed a two-RBI double to the left-center wall, contributing the Wolverines’ final runs.
Betsa made an appearance in the circle for the last three innings and made sure to make it count. The ace saw one perfect inning, two 1-2-3 innings and six strikeouts, allowing no hits.
The final matchup before conference play showcased the best that Michigan softball has to offer: the ability to find power and timing at the plate, two confident starting pitchers and a lineup that best suits the Wolverines. If hard work and high-caliber game performance like this ensues, Michigan will be primed for success heading into Big Ten play.