Halfway through the first inning of the Michigan softball team’s series finale against rival Ohio State, the wheels fell off.
Coming off of a one-run gem on Saturday, a different version of graduate left-hander Meghan Beaubien took the mound on Sunday — and it wasn’t an improved one.
This, combined with two incredibly costly fielding errors accounting for three runs, left the score 4-0 just a half inning after the game had started. The Wolverines needed stability, and they needed it quickly if they wanted any chance of victory.
They would find it in Alex Storako. Her six straight shutout innings made the difference, and kept Michigan alive as it just barely completed a 5-4 come from behind victory.
“We needed (her performance),” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “It’s huge, because in our game today, the hitters are too good and the bats are too hot to expect anybody to throw a shutout. When we throw a shutout, it’s special.”
While the senior right hander’s showing in the circle was undeniably dominant, it wasn’t reminiscent of her previous marquee performances. Namely, it wasn’t picture perfect.
When Storako takes the mound, there’s a good chance that she’ll throw a ridiculous number of strikeouts and prevent opposing batters from making any sort of contact. She averages 12 strikeouts per seven innings, meaning that more than 50% of the batters she faces can’t even put the ball in play.
On Sunday though, her performance was uncharacteristic. She threw only five strikeouts and Ohio State made consistent contact with the ball, at certain points hitting deep drives that required the fielders to make big plays. But despite making contact, they never once threatened to score.
Her performance was gutsier — and uglier — than previous outings that she’s had. But in many ways it was better. While Storako frequently fans batter after batter, she also often allows towering home runs, and they’ve been costly. Just a few weeks ago for example, she threw for 17 strikeouts — but still lost the game.
“The fact that she can win without her best stuff says a lot about her,” Hutchins said. “You just gotta go with what you got, and I thought she did a really good job of that.”
On Sunday, Storako did everything she needed to do. She forced the Buckeyes to settle for pop ups and groundouts, and when she did allow baserunners, her focus never waivered. After the disastrous start, Michigan needed stability, and Storako gave it a template to follow.
“Honestly I just came in there and wanted to be a level head for our defense and for our team as a whole,” Storako said. “(I wanted to be) that person to pick them up when they’re down and just be a steady person out on the field, and I think that’s what helped us come back.
All year, Hutchins has asked her veteran players to step up and become leaders, and on Sunday, that’s exactly what Storako dod. She grinded through a tough slog of a game with a vocal, focused and consistent performance. Her performance gave the Wolverines a chance to save themselves.
And they just barely did.