When fifth-year left hander Meghan Beaubien enters the circle to start a game, she can typically be expected to eat at least a few innings.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday, as Beaubien couldn’t even make it out of the first inning. But freshman right-hander Lauren Derkowski entered in relief and delivered a gem.
Derkowski’s relief performance carried the No. 22 Michigan softball team (23-11 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) to its second straight win over Penn State (22-15, 4-4), 2-1. Derkowski shined, allowing just three hits and one run in five-and-a-third innings, biding time before the bats finally gave her the needed run support to earn the walk-off victory.
“I think (Derkowski’s) confidence is really moving in a great direction,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She does what she does, she did her part, and that’s all we needed her to do.”
But Derkowski’s stellar outing did not begin right away.
Right from the get-go, Beaubien was shaky at best. She walked the first batter she faced on four pitches and could not find the strike zone. After hitting one batter and giving up a line drive single, Beaubien found herself with the bases loaded and only one out.
That hit ended Beaubien’s start, a brief outing plagued by control issues. Derkowski was called upon to try to escape the jam.
It took her just five pitches to do so. Derkowski struck out the first batter on three pitches, then quickly induced a routine pop-up to right field, escaping the inning unscathed.
“That definitely hypes everyone up,” Derkowski said. “It hypes me up on the mound, and it just gets us going in the dugout.”
That was the only real chance the Nittany Lions got in the first four innings. Derkowski cruised early, limiting the opposition to just two baserunners and punching out four. The few batters that did reach base couldn’t get anywhere, as Derkowski’s offspeed pitches constantly kept hitters off balance.
It took until there were two outs in the third inning for the Wolverines’ offense to strike first. Graduate second baseman Melina Livingston blooped a single into shallow center field, and fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump drove her in with a double into deep left-center field, her fourth RBI double in as many games.
But the Wolverines still struggled to capitalize on the opportunities they produced. Despite recording eight hits through the first five innings, they scored only one run, stranding 11 baserunners. In the fourth inning, they put runners on second and third with just one out, but couldn’t bring them in.
“Give the pitcher credit, give the pitching coach credit,” Hutchins said. “They changed it up a little bit from yesterday. Three different pitchers, sometimes it takes a little bit to get used to them.”
But Michigan’s inability to capitalize nearly proved costly.
In the top of the fifth inning, Derkowski made her first mistake. She left a pitch over the plate to catcher Cassie Lindmark, who drove it over the left field fence to knot the game at one. Though Derkowski retired the next three batters, the damage was already done.
Derkowski gave up one more hit in the sixth inning, and allowed her to reach second on a wild pitch. Though she recorded two outs, Hutchins opted to bring in senior right-hander Alex Storako to finish the game. Storako quickly induced a weak groundout to first base, ending the inning.
Then, in the bottom of the seventh inning, the bats finally broke through.
Livingston opened the inning by tagging a ball into left field that one-hopped to the fence for a double. Bump drove a fly ball deep enough into right field for Livingston to tag up and reach third. One batter later, junior outfielder Audrey LeClair blooped a ball into shallow left field.
With left fielder Liana Jones playing extremely shallow, Livingston was forced to wait at third. Once the ball fell in for a hit, she began a mad dash to home plate. Livingston slid into home just a second before Lindmark could put the tag down, scoring the game-winning run.
“During that moment, I heard my teammates in the dugout cheering my name,” LeClair said. “Knowing that they trusted me was sort of this calming moment. It wasn’t stressful at all.”
With LeClair’s walk-off, the Wolverines escaped another upset loss, reached .500 in conference play and pushed their win streak to four.
And though it was Storako who earned the win on the stat sheet, Michigan’s victory can only be attributed to Derkowski’s poise in an excellent performance.