Right-hander Megan Betsa woke up Friday morning feeling better than usual.
“I felt pretty in the zone today,” Betsa said. “Just when I woke up something about this day I was just like, ‘Alright I’m ready to go.’ "
That meant bad news for Northwestern, who Betsa dispatched with an ease that has become the norm for the Michigan senior. Betsa finished the day with a complete-game shutout and 11 strikeouts, allowing just three hits en route to the Wolverines’ 10-0 run-rule victory.
For a pitcher amidst the best stretch in her career at Michigan, there have been plenty of good mornings lately.
“I just feel confident,” Betsa said. “I think that’s something I’ve said I’ve had in the past, but I dont really know based on how I’m actually feeling right now. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually had this type of confidence going into games.
“Like, I really don’t think people can score many runs off of me, and when runners get on base, it’s my plate, and I don’t want them to touch the plate. That’s just my mentality.”
As Betsa continues to stake her claim as one of the best pitchers in Michigan softball history — recording her 1,000th strikeout Friday being another feather in that cap — it’s that self-confidence that drives her, as it does every great athlete.
It’s the confidence that makes consistent complete-game, double-digit strikeout performances seem ordinary.
It’s the confidence that leads to a career-defining stretch over the past few weeks — with 41-straight shutout innings, including two no-hitters in that span.
It’s the confidence that defines an ace.
And on Friday that confidence spread to both sides of the ball.
From the outset, the Wolverines’ offense imposed its will on Northwestern right-hander Kaley Winegarner, who entered the game with a 2.10 earned-run average, but exited with nobody out in the fourth inning tagged with seven hits and six earned runs.
With two outs in the first inning, Blanco hit an awkward bloop between the pitchers circle and the second baseman. Just as the charging Northwestern second baseman Brooke Marquez seemed to be in prime position to field the ball and shovel it on to first base, the ball hit the infield dirt and immediately spun to her left and into the outfield grass. Sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield came in to score the first run of the game.
Two batters later, senior centerfielder Kelly Christner would loop a bases-loaded single into centerfield to knock in two more runs. Christner would later add two more RBI on a two-run double in the left-center gap in the bottom of the fourth.
Coming off a game on Tuesday against Central Michigan in which a struggling Christner accounted for both RBI in the 2-0 victory, she now appears to be climbing out of the prolongued slump that had been plaguing the senior and led to her demotion in the lineup.
Christner, though, views it all through the prism of the team. To her, the move to seventh in the lineup was because junior infielder Amanda Vargas continued to hit well and demanded more at-bats. After two straight strong performances, that mindset has not changed.
“I think just focusing on trying not to do too much and not putting all the pressure on yourself,” Christner said. “Knowing that, if you don’t get it done the person after you will. I think if we continue to have that mindset we’ll continue to come together more as a team.”
And with 10 runs on 11 hits coming from sources up and down the lineup Friday, that ‘next-hitter-up’ mantra seems to be resonating.
The offensive consistency will certainly be important in determining Michigan's ultimate fate. But on the night — with Betsa in the circle — it wasn't necessary. One run would have been enough.
Even Michigan coach Carol Hutchins — who sparsely, if ever, reflects on the past — acknowledges that Betsa has reached a new level than ever before.
“(Betsa’s) just trusting what she’s doing is good enough,” Hutchins said. “She really sets a great example and she sets a good tone for us. … She’s really been the best I’ve seen her in her career over this period.”