There is one clear difference between the No. 25 Michigan softball team and Nebraska: One’s outfield performed well in Sunday’s contest and one dropped the ball.
This was never more evident than in the second inning of Sunday’s game. When the Huskers lined a ball out to right field in the top of the inning, Haley Hoogenraad was ready. The junior right-fielder easily made the catch — her sixth of the weekend. The outfield, comprised of Hoogenraad, freshman Lexie Blair and senior Natalie Peters, helped keep the Huskers scoreless, not only through this inning but through the rest of the game.
Michigan’s outfield prowess was underscored by Nebraska’s fielding failures in the bottom of the second inning.
Peters popped the ball into left field with the bases loaded. While a Michigan outfielder would have had little problem with the catch, the Huskers couldn’t reciprocate, dropping the ball not once but twice and handing the Wolverines their first three runs of the game.
Tough catches like that one from Hoogenraad were common throughout the weekend, and the Wolverines’ outfielders were up to the challenge, amassing 10 putouts and no errors by the end of the third game. Defensively, the Wolverines were a force to be reckoned with on all areas of the field. The combination of standout performances from the infield, outfield and pitchers allowed them to dominate the series, giving up just two runs in 18 innings.
“(Hoogenraad) does a fantastic job in the outfield — that’s why she’s there,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She helps us win.”
Hoogenraad has helped Michigan win several times this season, maintaining the highest fielding percentage of the starting outfielders. Her current record for the season — one error and 33 catches — has taken some pressure off sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien in the circle.
“I have a lot of confidence in our defense,” Beaubien said. “Knowing that makes it easy to trust your teammates and know that I don’t have to strike everybody out because they can make plays for me.”
The outfield continued to be a fatal shortcoming for Nebraska as Michigan’s merry-go-round continued. Miscues from the Huskers allowed the Wolverines to turn singles into doubles and put many runners in a position to reach home — largely contributing to the Wolverines’ 12-0 win.
“We need to take advantage of any mistakes,” Hutchins said. “Any time we can get a base — bases are the only way you can score.”