It’s tough to win a softball game by stranding baserunners. No matter how many hits a team gets and how many runners reach base, it has to produce under the pressure of having runners on base to give itself a chance.
On Tuesday, the No. 21 Michigan softball team (18-6 overall) succeeded when under pressure to cruise to a 9-1 run-rule victory over Western Michigan (10-16) in six innings. Fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien tossed a one-run gem and, aided by some defensive miscues, the bats backed her up with clutch two-out production.
“Our biggest thing is just focusing on situational hitting,” senior outfielder Lexie Blair said. “Regardless of the outs, it’s about driving the ball depending on where the pitch is. I don’t think we’re putting as much pressure on ourselves as we have in previous games.”
In both of the first two innings, weak contact led to two quick outs, putting the Wolverines in a hole. But with two outs in the second inning, the bats started to lock in.
Junior outfielder Audrey LeClair beat out a chopper back to the pitcher for a single and stole second. A four-pitch walk for freshman shortstop Ella McVey flipped the lineup over, bringing Blair to the plate. Blair capitalized, blasting a line drive down the right field line for a two-run double and an early lead.
“Today I was just going up there and saying in my head, ‘swing at anything that’s really hittable,’ ” Blair said. “My swing and miss rate is really low, so (Michigan coach Carol Hutchins) was like ‘swing, swing and miss more, swing at pitches that are in the zone.’ ”
From there, the offense continued to thrive with two outs. In the third inning, junior first baseman Lauren Esman and fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump both singled before Esman scored on an error in the next at-bat. An inning later, with two down again, senior catcher Hannah Carson singled up the middle to give the Wolverines a 4-0 lead.
“In a coach’s eye, we’re never as productive in RBI situations as we want to be,” Michigan associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “We’ve been trying to put that in play in practice settings. We’ve done RBI drills, where we put them under the clock to produce runs, to create offense with more stressors in practice that would translate to games.”
While the offense scored under two-out pressure, Beaubien was brilliant in maintaining the Wolverines’ lead. She punched out 10 batters, including five looking. Her offspeed was untouchable, with Bronco after Bronco only able to watch as changeups dropped into the strike zone.
“I was able to spot the outside corner pretty well and just get calls that were biting the edge of the plate,” Beaubien said. “That, plus the offspeed, I had a lot of hitters off balance and that’s what I’m always looking for.
And in the sixth inning, Michigan put the finishing touches on the victory. LeClair opened the inning with a walk and stole second base for the second time on the day, and freshman utility player and pitcher Annabelle Widra drove her in with a pinch-hit RBI double. The Wolverines then loaded the bases via a single and a walk, and two more runs scored on passed balls, giving Michigan a 7-1 lead.
With the bases loaded once again, sophomore catcher Keke Tholl grounded a ball to Western Michigan shortstop Lauren Porter. Porter tossed the ball to second base for what should have been an easy out to end the inning. Instead, second baseman Jordyn Swinehart dropped the toss and two more Wolverines crossed the plate, putting Michigan up eight and bringing the game to an abrupt end.
“Sometimes, it isn’t pretty,” Bonnie Tholl said. “I don’t think it was pretty today, but it was effective.”