Senior right-hander Alex Storako confidently strolled to the circle, ready to continue her early season dominance. She might not have expected the pitcher’s duel that ensued.
To the surprise of no one, Storako maintained her superiority, and her defense held strong behind her — despite the game remaining locked at zero into the fifth inning.
But eventually, Michigan broke through.
Storako continued her winning ways as the No. 19 Michigan softball team (17-6) beat Oakland (7-7), 6-0. The game began as a defensive battle, but the Wolverines’ consistent contact eventually broke through the Golden Grizzlies’ defense. A home run from senior outfielder Lexie Blair in the fifth inning began an explosion of late-game offense, resulting in a comfortable win in what had previously been a close game.
Storako lived up to her reputation as a strikeout pitcher. Through seven innings, she notched 16 strikeouts and allowed just one runner to reach base.
“You recognize when there’s confidence and presence in the circle,” associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “ … (Storako) is executing her role, (and) it makes it easier for everybody else behind her to execute their role.”
The first four innings of play were a defensive standoff. Storako and Oakland right-hander Sydney Campbell took turns retiring the side. Michigan repeatedly made solid contact, but was unable to drive in several baserunners.
But something had to give.
The repeated contact finally started to pay off for the Wolverines in the fifth inning, when sophomore utility player Sierra Kersten reached base with a hard-hit grounder to right field. Sophomore utility player Kaylee Rodriguez pinch-ran for her. Junior utility player Audrey LeClair’s grounder to third advanced Rodriguez to second. Sophomore utility player Keke Tholl pinch hit for freshman shortstop Ella McVey, and managed to earn a five-pitch walk. This put two runners on for Blair.
With a one-one count, Blair saw a pitch she liked and drove a deep home run into center field, finally breaking the tie and putting the Wolverines up three.
“Sometimes it takes (a while),” Tholl said. “ … That’s why you have to play good defense until your offense can produce.”
Graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt opened up the next inning with a single and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and fielder’s choice. A chopper by graduate utility player Melina Livingston scored Burkhardt, providing Storako with even more of a cushion. Kersten added to the lead even further with a two-run home run to right field.
All of a sudden the Wolverines were up six, and the game was all but over.
“Rhythm is a really good way to describe where we’re at right now,” Tholl said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s been without speed bumps, but we’ve been able to work through it, and each game seemingly we are improving in the managing of our at-bats.”
Against Oakland, Michigan was able to turn a dead-even game into a comfortable win within the space of an inning. When combined with electric pitching performances like Storako’s, the Wolverines are finally starting to look like a complete team.