When Meghan Beaubien is on the top of her game, her teammates call her the “Beaubot.” From a statistical standpoint, it’s easy to see why the Michigan softball team makes the comparison.
A season ago, Beaubien took college softball by the horns, posting a 1.16 earned run average while amassing 266 strikeouts across 217 innings pitched. But despite receiving first-team All-America honors as a freshman, the Beaubot occasionally malfunctions.
In those instances, the team has looked to its other two pitchers — freshman right-hander Alex Storako and sophomore right-hander Sarah Schaefer — for quality innings.
On Friday, Wolverine coach Carol Hutchins saw both sides of the spectrum. In Michigan’s first game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge doubleheader, Beaubien racked up eight strikeouts while holding Louisville to only one hit. After notching a 33-6 pitching record last season, Friday’s shutout marked the left-hander’s first win of the 2019 campaign.
A mere two hours after Beaubien stumped the Cardinals, Hutchins once again called upon her ace. This time, the Wolverines were deadlocked in a fifth-inning tie with host North Carolina when Beaubien took the ball from Storako.
The pitching change would soon prove fatal.
Beaubien tried to push through the fatigue of the seven innings she threw earlier in the afternoon, but ultimately unraveled. After a groundout plated a run, North Carolina loaded the bases for first baseman Kiersten Licea after pitches tailed too far inward on consecutive batters. With only one out, Beaubien took a deep breath and delivered a pitch. When the ball landed, it was on the other side of the right-field fence.
The Tar Heels grabbed a commanding 8-3 lead — the game’s eventual final score — and chased away one of the nation’s most dominant pitchers after recording only one out.
“I think it was 100-percent mental,” Beaubien said. “ … We (need to) not put pressure on ourselves to get the results we want and just play softball like we know how.”
Through eight appearances, the Beaubot has experienced only one technical difficulty. Her ERA sits at 3.00, but that’s mostly due to the uncharacteristic outing against North Carolina. Excluding that appearance, Beaubien has allowed just seven earned runs in 27.2 innings — good for a would-be ERA of 1.77.
With two weekends in the rearview mirror, a solution-oriented approach has taken shape among the entire pitching staff.
“The (pitchers) know themselves and that they have to do better than that, and they hear it from the coaches,” senior catcher Katie Alexander said. “They’re all hard workers so they’re going to come to practice this week and know what they have to do to get better because they see what happens when you throw the ball over the plate, or when you walk (batters) and give up 10 free bases.”
Elsewhere on the pitching staff, Storako has pitched 20.2 more innings than Schaefer through the first two weekends, but their respective ERAs of 2.66 and 1.24 could hint that Schaefer will see an increase in her workload soon.
Short-term innings distribution beyond Beaubien will depend on how Hutchins wants to attack the opposition. Storako is a spin pitcher who approaches hitters with a strikeout-oriented mindset, whereas Schaefer’s effectiveness lies in her ability to produce soft contact.
To Alexander, Schaefer performs at her best when she stays within her own bounds.
“(Schaefer) is kind of a pitcher who — well, she doesn’t blow it by you,” Alexander said. “The ball’s going to get hit, so (she needs to) understand that’s going to happen, don’t try to do more than you’re capable of. When she doesn’t try to be more than she is, she’s going to be great.”
In a program with a tradition as rich as Michigan’s, players have to prove they belong on the diamond. Each time Schaefer trots from the dugout to the circle, Alexander delivers the same message.
“What I always tell her when she’s out there is, ‘Show them. Show us and show the team that we’re playing,’ ” Alexander said.
Though Schaefer may be the one to see an uptick in future innings, Alexander’s goal is to help take the entire pitching staff to the next level.
“If I can help the (pitchers), we’ll all be able to succeed together.”