It looked like Rutgers was going to score.
As senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien readied to throw the 1-2 pitch, outfielder Anyssa Iliopoulos stared back with an RBI on her mind. Two hit batters and a fielding error had loaded the bases for the Scarlet Knights, and the pressure could be felt throughout Alumni Field.
Iliopoulos hit the pitch, but it bounced just before senior third baseman Taylor Bump. A quick throw to first ended the inning, and also what proved to be Rutgers’ best scoring opportunity of the game.
Despite minor setbacks, stout defensive work punctuated No. 18 Michigan’s 3-0 series-opening victory. Every time the Scarlet Knights threatened to put an offensive drive together, a Wolverine would squash those hopes.
“Pitching and defense … is our strength, and we do rely on it,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “As I say, just do your part. When you’re out there, everybody has a part to do and they just need to commit to doing their part.”
From the first pitch, Beaubien and the infield did their part to control the game. Rutgers found no rhythm in the batter’s box and swung at weak pitches. Bump ended the first inning with a good read to snag a foul toward the third base line, pouncing on an opportunity to end a Scarlet Knight’s at-bat early.
That defensive pressure cooker continued until an awkward fourth inning. Beaubien hit Rutgers first baseman Gabrielle Callaway to start the inning and bobbled a catch later on. She and Bump tried to make a quick play on the dropped ball to still get an out, but miscommunication prevented that from happening. The Wolverines infield had to step up to prevent a score, but they kept their composure and handled a treacherous situation with routine ease.
From then on, Beaubien gained a new sense of confidence in her pitching. She attacked each batter with every pitch from then on as her team ran away with the game. The Scarlet Knights went down quietly with just one hit the rest of the game.
Even then, Rutgers did their best to create offensive threats. Callaway opened the sixth inning by putting the ball in play, but senior first baseman Lou Allan dashed those hopes by diving toward a hard line drive near first base to seal the opening out of a 1-2-3 inning.
Despite Michigan’s defensive strength, Rutgers worked full counts throughout the game, some batters fouling back three or four pitches before going back to the dugout.
Beaubien took the extra challenge in stride for most at-bats, delivering seven strikeouts on the day and only allowing two hits through all seven innings. She limited what the infield saw, but when the ball was put in play, the fielding unit was there to help her out all game.
“We work really hard on our defense and it’s a part of the game that we pride ourselves on pretty high,” Bump said. “So it was nice to get some balls in play today and back our pitchers up, and that’s always our goal.”
Success was all but expected against Rutgers, a team that has struggled at the plate all season. Still, blanking the Scarlet Knights was a testament to the Wolverines’ defensive abilities as the win seemed all but guaranteed after escaping the fourth-inning. Shutting down that opportunity seemed to take the wind out of Rutgers’ sails.
Michigan flexed its defensive capabilities on Friday, a part of its identity that pitching dominance has often overshadowed throughout the season. Its importance could not be overstated in beating Rutgers, and it kept the Wolverines in control for much of the game.
Even when scoring proves difficult, Michigan knows its fielders can step up.