When the No. 23 Michigan softball team entered the bottom of the seventh inning on Saturday, its situation was dire.
Leading 2-1 after the sixth inning, with a raucous Alumni Field crowd carrying the Wolverines’ momentum forward, Michigan seemed well on its way to a victory. But Ohio State catcher Sam Hackenbracht crushed a two-run double off freshman right-hander Lauren Derkowski, and the Buckeyes took a late lead.
For the second straight day, it looked like the Wolverines had collapsed. Once again, they were going to lose to their biggest rival on their home field.
But Michigan’s veteran leadership wasn’t worried.
“I wouldn’t say we blew the lead,” fifth-year senior third baseman Taylor Bump said. “I definitely know the scoreboard flipped, but we always have each other’s backs and that was the approach going into the bottom of the seventh. … I knew that we were going to come back and win that game.”
To come back, the Wolverines needed to start the inning strong, and they couldn’t have asked for a better leadoff hitter. After three weeks on the sidelines due to a knee injury, senior outfielder Lexie Blair stepped into the batter’s box to get the inning going.
Blair wasn’t 100%, though. Still unable to play the outfield, she started the game at first base for the first time in her career. But as much as she still could not do, her bat provided a spark to a Michigan offense that has often needed one in her absence. Back in the fifth inning, she drove in the game-tying run on a hard grounder to right field.
“We’ve been missing her bat in the lineup,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
And in the seventh inning, like in so many clutch situations throughout her career, Blair delivered again.
She ripped another ground ball down the first base line, hopping over the bag and past the first baseman’s outstretched glove into the outfield. Easily reaching base, Blair set the stage for the rest of her teammates to come through behind her.
“Being in the leadoff spot, my goal is just to get on base,” Blair said. “That was the agenda and I’m glad I was able to just play my role in the lineup. I knew the people behind me were gonna move the runners and get those runs scored.”
Blair’s confidence in her teammates quickly proved true.
Right after Blair’s at bat, graduate second baseman Melina Livingston laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner. Even after having to adjust to a mid-at bat pitching change, senior catcher Hannah Carson drove a single into shallow left field to keep the momentum going.
Now, with runners at the corners and only one out, Bump stepped up to the plate.
Bump crushed the ball deep into straightaway center field, where it bounced off the fence. Once the ball landed, the runners began a mad dash to home plate. By the time all the dust settled, Bump stood at third base with a two-run walk off triple.
And before Bump even swung, her teammates knew what was going to happen.
“I actually called a home run,” fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien said. “We call it swiping the yard card, and I swiped the yard card and came up a couple of feet short. … There was not a doubt in my mind that she was gonna step up to the plate and get the job done.”
Even after nearly blowing the game for the second straight day, the Wolverines’ veteran leadership would simply not allow the team to give in. In a situation where they so easily could have folded, Blair, Bump and everyone else behind them refused to.
“We appeared confident, and that’s what matters,” Bump said. “Even if you don’t feel confident, if you fake that confidence it’s going to come. You’ve heard the term, ‘fake it til you make it.’… And I have nothing but faith in this team — nothing.”
When the team needed leadership most, its veterans finally brought it in full swing.
And by not doubting for a second that they could succeed, Michigan finally turned its confidence into success.