There was an 18-game winning streak on the line at the top of the seventh inning for the No. 17 Michigan softball team.
But that didn’t matter to the players. All they wanted was to beat Iowa.
And while the Wolverines’ late efforts pulled close, it wasn’t enough as they fell to the Hawkeyes, 4-3.
“It was a fight, we put all of our hearts out on the line, but the biggest thing was we started a little late,” said freshman designated player Lou Allan. “We picked up our energy a little too late. If we could maintain that energy from first pitch to the last pitch it would help us a lot.”
It was evident Michigan had the skill to win against Iowa, as they had done so just a couple hours before in a 4-1 win over the Hawkeyes. However, the problem lied with the timing of the effort.
It wasn’t until the fifth inning that the Wolverines looked like they were ready to play.
Before the top of the fifth, there were two three-up-three-down innings and two one-hit innings for Michigan, who was unable to start its offensive game plan — getting the ball to the ground.
“We had a really good gameplan going in there, and we didn’t stick to the game plan,” said senior right-hander Tera Blanco. “And that was another one of our weaknesses that was highlighted. That’s something that we’ve been working on our last few days of practices.”
However, in the top of the fifth, the scoring drought for the Wolverines — who found themselves trailing by two — ended with an RBI single from junior second baseman Faith Canfield.
In past games, once the score opened up, it would avalanche down all at once. Against Iowa’s pitching, however, Michigan couldn’t repeat its typical scoring trend.
Finding themselves in a four-run deficit and down to their final set of outs, the Wolverines finally found the missing urgency.
“We were having a lot of good at bats, but we were giving away a lot of innings earlier in the game by not having the good at-bats in the last inning,” Blanco said. “Towards the end of the innings, a lot of people started to turn it on, but we needed that a little earlier.”
Freshman shortstop Natalia Rodriguez walked up to the plate. As Michigan coach Carol Hutchins notes, Rodriguez has a “certain swag” about her that makes her live for the pressure-filled moments. Despite that unwavering confidence, Rodriguez, as the leadoff hitter, couldn’t find the necessary contact to help the offense — taking the first out of the inning on a failed bunt attempt.
After that, thanks to a Hawkeye error, Canfield hustled her way to first. With a single from junior centerfielder Natalie Peters, Michigan began seeing hope. As Blanco hit a single to right field, the Wolverines saw more than hope — they saw loaded bases with only one out.
Then, senior outfielder Aidan Falk struck out swinging on three straight pitches, and the momentum took a step back.
The pressure started to mount.
But with two straight walks, hope returned. There was only a one-run differential with loaded bases. Despite the lack of energy early, there was no better chance to be fired up than now.
Sophomore outfielder Haley Hoogenraad had shown offensive improvements throughout the season. She had always been a great defensive player, but now had the time to show the strides she’s made on the other end.
But it was not to be.
Swinging on the first pitch, she saw it sail in the air but fall lazily into the shortstop’s glove. It was the final out.
Despite the attempt at a comeback, the team felt the loss was one they could have avoided. To them, it was just a matter of effort.
“We started to work the count and swing at some more pitches and things started to go our way,” Blanco said. “The last inning highlighted that we are good enough, we are a really good team, we just need to prove it. We need to come out like that and not wait until the last inning to do that.”