During a scorching Orlando day, the Michigan softball team felt the heat — and the pressure.
The Wolverines and Central Florida were locked at two apiece heading into extra innings after a clutch double in the seventh by the Knights’ outfielder Maddie Bejarano. At this point, giving up any run would mean a descent into the losers bracket, and a much tougher path to the Super Regional round.
Michigan’s pitchers were pushed to their limits as it did everything in its power to take the game. But at critical times, the players in the circle did not receive the support they needed from a usually error-free fielding corps.
“When you’re not scoring runs, it’s gonna be a tight, tight game,” Wolverines coach Carol Hutchins said.
And with UCF being the host team, Michigan had no room for error.
In the ninth inning, a miscommunication at first base gave the Knights their first base runner of the inning. On the very next play, a grounder up the middle froze both graduate second baseman Melina Livingston and freshman shortstop Ella McVey, and neither could make a play. Now there were two free baserunners for UCF with only one out. These plays prompted Hutchins to call for fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien to re-enter the game.
Beaubien struck out the side, but those errors gave the Knights a runner in scoring position and multiple chances to capitalize. And even though they didn’t walk it off on this occasion, the extra pressure on the pitchers — and the lineup as a whole — affected the Wolverines.
“The game came down to our lack of ability to get more runs on the board,” Hutchins said. “We had our share of opportunities but the bottom line is we had an opportunity to score but didn’t.”
But Michigan was unable to make good on these opportunities in the 10th and 11th frames.
In the 11th inning with one out, Beaubien’s control began to slip and allowed a walk. With the game in the balance, she refocused and coaxed a weak grounder out of the batter. But instead of that grounder being converted into an out, an error from Livingston on the force out kept the runner on second, still with only one out.
The next play, Bejarano came in clutch again, walking it off with a double down the right field line. That double would not have ended the game if it wasn’t for the error that preceded it.
Even so, Michigan had 12 outs in extras to score a run and take the game into its own hands. And if they had remained error-free, the Wolverines likely would have had even more opportunities to get a runner across.
“We can’t expect our pitchers to be flawless or anybody on the field to be flawless,” Hutchins said.
Now, their backs are against the wall, and another game with less-than-flawless execution could end their season.
Two runs won’t be enough against many teams, especially ones Michigan will face as it continues through the NCAA Tournament. If the Wolverines want to make a run, they will need to find their late-season form at the plate and clean up their act in the field.
Their postseason fate depends on it.