When sophomore second baseman Julia Jimenez stepped into the batter’s box against Minnesota right-hander Amber Fiser, you wouldn’t know that she had been pulled for a pinch hitter in a series-defining plate appearance against Northwestern just two weeks prior.
The way Jimenez powered the barrel of her bat through the ball — without an ounce of hesitation in her swing — suggested she’d been an offensive catalyst all season. All Fiser could do was watch her pitch sail over the fence, frustration filling her face.
Jimenez’s increased production helped power No. 19 Michigan’s 3-1 series win over the 23rd-ranked Gophers. It also helped clinch the Wolverines’ third consecutive Big Ten title.
“I feel like I just came out, I wanted to prove myself to a lot of people,” Jimenez said. “I feel like I did that and I’m just going to keep it going from here on out.”
Jimenez provided a consistent threat in the middle of the batting order, hitting 7-for-12 on the weekend and creating runs throughout the series. Batting behind senior first baseman Lou Allan and senior third baseman Taylor Bump gave Jimenez ample opportunities to convert runs.
The key, though, was that she thrived in the high-pressure situations that she had to watch from the dugout only two series prior.
This weekend’s success might not look surprising when considering Jimenez’s .500 batting average in Michigan’s domination of Penn State. But against two of the top Big Ten pitchers in the Minnesota bullpen, her stats actually improved. Jimenez rose to the challenge when her team needed it most.
Even staring down lopsided scores didn’t throw Jimenez off. In the sixth inning of Sunday’s loss, the Wolverines lagged behind 7-1 with runners on the corners. Jimenez hit a single into center field that allowed senior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez to score, then sprinted to second as an error allowed junior catcher Hannah Carson to score too. Whenever Michigan needed offense, she was there to deliver.
Her power hitting also changed against the Gophers. After only hitting two home runs the whole season, Jimenez hit two over the fences at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
Not only did Jimenez hit long balls, but they came when victory was within Minnesota’s reach. She provided an insurance marker in Friday’s 3-0 shutout. In the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader, her two-run bomb put the Wolverines up to an early three-run lead.
Jimenez’s resurgence could not have come at a better time for Michigan. Junior outfielder Lexie Blair — an offensive powerhouse all season — couldn’t crack the Gopher pitchers, batting just 3-for-11. With Blair’s bat uncharacteristically silent, Jimenez roared her loudest.
“Everybody in the lineup, they have ups and they have downs,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “And so it’s really important that it’s at least some consistency of at-bats from everybody, and knowing that not everybody’s going to be the one that comes through all the time.”
That ability to step up for the team punctuated Jimenez’s performance. Being pulled in the Northwestern series came full circle as she became the much-needed X-factor against the Gophers.
“I think just us being there for each other as a team is the most important thing because we can get caught in ourselves,” Jimenez said. “But this weekend showed that we can do anything if we have each other.”
This weekend proved there’s more than one offensive dynamo on the Wolverines’ roster as they clinched their third straight Big Ten title. With the postseason drawing nearer, beating Minnesota three times assuaged fears that Michigan’s roster can’t survive when one hitter struggles.
There’s a new Julia Jimenez on the roster, one that’s almost incomparable to her struggles just two weeks ago.