With a full count, senior third baseman Taylor Bump calmly settled into the batter’s box. She then propelled the pitch from Rutgers right-hander Ashley Hitchcock, sneaking it over the left centerfield wall for a solo blast in the third inning.
Bump was electric, feeding off the roar of the crowd and pumping her hands in the air as she rounded first base. The No. 18 Michigan softball team (33-6 Big Ten) embodied Bump’s electrified spirit as she rounded the base paths throughout its annual pink game, as it defeated Rutgers (8-33), 3-0, to open its four-game series.
The Wolverines got to Rutgers right-hander Ashley Hitchcock early, jumping to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. The scoring was sparked by junior outfielder Lexie Blair in the leadoff spot, who opened the game with a low line drive that streaked past the diving second basemen, hitting the right centerfield wall for a standup double. Blair then swiped third base on a passed ball.
The very next batter, senior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez, shot the ball into the left center gap for a double, scoring Blair. A single up the middle from junior catcher Hannah Carson later scored Rodriguez from second, establishing a lead for Michigan that it wouldn’t relinquish.
“Everyone is swinging the bat really well,” Bump said. “We had a lot of good cuts today. Unfortunately (many) just went right to some of the defenders out there, so we’re just going to keep swinging.”
Although the Wolverines’ offense did enough to provide a comfortable victory, missed opportunities with runners in scoring position kept the game within reach for the Scarlet Knights.
In the bottom of the second inning, Michigan had runners on second and third base with two outs. It stranded the runners after a rare strikeout from Blair — who was tied for the second fewest strikeouts in the Big Ten entering the contest — followed by a flyout to right field by Rodriguez.
The Wolverines were unable to cash in on the momentum they built in the bottom of the third inning following the Bump home run. They loaded first and second base, but a strikeout from sophomore utility player Lauren Esman ended the inning.
Senior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad used her speed in the next inning to make it to third base. She stole second following a walk, then sprinted to third on a sacrifice bunt. She too was left stranded, following a groundout to third base by senior first baseman Lou Allan.
Despite struggling to convert on ample scoring opportunities, senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien ensured that Michigan’s three runs were enough for the win. She posted a strong outing for her 14th win of the season — pitching a complete game shutout and only allowing two hits in the dominant showing.
Beaubien commanded the Rutgers lineup throughout the game and rarely faced pressure on the basepaths. She did, however, in the top of the fourth when she committed a fielding error and hit two batters with pitches to load the bases. Beaubien kept her composure and got herself out of the jam, forcing a groundout to third base on a 1-2 pitch.
“Once we got out of the jam, (Beaubien) got a little better edge to her,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
Added Beaubien: “It’s key to … just focus on one pitch at a time and not hanging on to that error or thinking about, ‘what if they get a hit here,’ or anything like that.”
Beaubien faced no such threats for the remainder of the game, cruising through the Scarlet Knights lineup en route to victory. Michigan will look to build off its series opening victory in its double header with Rtugers tomorrow.
“The priority of course is to win the game, and we did,” Hutchins said. “But celebrating the (Michigan softball) academy and wearing pink tonight, it’s a highlight … and we’re so proud.”