For much of the season, the winning formula for the No. 2 Michigan softball team has involved its pitchers doing just enough while its hitters carried the team.
But lately, the script has flipped for the Wolverines (12-2 Big Ten, 34-4 overall). As the offense has struggled to score runs as frequently as it did earlier this season, the pitching staff has picked up the slack.
Fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga continued this trend Tuesday against Michigan State (4-10, 22-22) with a complete-game shutout in Michigan’s 8-0 run-rule win.
In five innings at the circle, Driesenga allowed just three hits without giving up a run or a walk. She coasted through the first three and a third frames by inducing simple groundouts and infield popups, working on a perfect game in the process.
But the Spartans finally broke through in the fourth with a ground ball that barely scooted past junior shortstop Abby Ramirez. The next batter followed suit with another grounder that just passed the glove of sophomore first baseman Tera Blanco. Driesenga seemed to be in a bit of a bind, but she relied on her defense to make plays as she had all game.
Ramirez stepped up first with a fielder’s choice that forced the runner out at third. Needing only one more out to escape the jam, Blanco fielded a grounder and narrowly won a foot race with the runner to the bag, securing the final out of the frame by a half step.
“Today I had a lot of confidence in the defense,” Driesenga said. “Getting ahead of the hitters is definitely a big thing, (but) just trusting the defense and letting them play, too.”
While Driesenga outpowered Michigan State, the Wolverines’ offense initially struggled to find its footing. Outside of a two-run homer by senior right fielder Kelsey Susalla in the first inning, the Wolverines were kept silent at the plate to start the game.
“The hitters were trying to be aggressive, because that was our game plan,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Last week (against the Spartans), we took a lot of pitches that were really hittable, but (in this game), we were swinging at pitches that weren’t really the best ones to swing at.”
That all changed in the fifth inning, as Michigan’s offense heated up in a hurry. With two runners on base and only one out, junior left fielder Kelly Christner — one of two Wolverine hitters having no such trouble on the day — launched an RBI single to center. Then Susalla, the other hitter having a strong day at the plate, followed suit with a two-run single in the same direction. Needing just two more runs to eclipse the run-rule margin, Blanco smacked a bomb into the bleachers in right field to secure a walk-off win.
After the victory, Hutchins pointed out that the pitchers have used a singular focus to help dictate Michigan’s recent run of success.
“Just stay ahead in the count and stay in your process and do your part,” Hutchins said. “They don’t control when our offense scores and if our offense scores. Their job is just to keep us in the game and give our offense a chance to win it.”
For now, the flipped script is working as a new winning formula for the Wolverines. The hitters are doing just enough, and the pitchers are carrying the team.