With two outs and a runner on second in the fifth, Keke Tholl stepped up to the plate. Fresh off the bench, the sophomore catcher dug in, eyeing the first pitch she saw as it came in belt-high and over the middle. Tholl took a big cut and drove the ball deep into center field, where it flew off the top of the wall and out of the park, putting the No. 19 Michigan softball team up eight runs over North Carolina.
Tholl’s two-run shot capped off an explosion at the plate which continued the trend from the end of the weekend’s invitational. Propelled by red-hot hitting, the Wolverines (10-5 overall) recorded back-to-back five-inning run-rule wins, defeating Elon (9-4) on Monday and the Tar Heels (9-7) on Tuesday.
“We just are finding ways to have fun with each other and have fun on the field,” senior catcher Hannah Carson said. “In the beginning, we were trying very hard to see the results, not focusing on our process. … Now we’re just staying in the moment, playing one pitch at a time.”
Michigan came roaring out of the gates against the Phoenix, scoring six runs in the first two innings. Sophomore utility player Sierra Kersten continued her hot streak with two hits and four RBIs, and by the end of the fourth inning, the Wolverines had scored 11 runs. The offensive outburst was too much for Elon to handle, and despite giving up three runs in the fifth, Michigan captured the run-rule victory, 11-3.
As the bats erupted, the pitching staff continued to work quietly. Senior right-hander Alex Storako turned in three one-hit innings and earned the victory, and two freshman notched some more experience under their belt. Freshman right-hander and utility player Annabelle Widra struck out all four batters she faced, and freshman right-hander Emerson Aiken got her first opportunity of the year, giving up three runs in two-thirds of an inning but closing out the win.
“As I see them get more innings, I think they look more comfortable,” fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien said. “(Widra) looked great, she was confident and she looked strong. (Aiken) had a great mindset in her first opportunity, and I thought she really learned from it.”
Facing UNC, the Wolverines just continued the trend. The suddenly blistering offense swung aggressively once again, jumping on pitches early in the count against the Tar Heels’ freshman Lilli Backes. Meanwhile, the defense gave Backes little help, compounding four hits with 3 UNC errors in the second inning, giving Michigan an early four-run lead.
“We stayed focused on ourselves and used the other team’s mistakes as energy for us,” Carson said. “Having those errors by North Carolina pumped us up to get people around the bases, and take advantage of the opportunities that are given to us.”
Again, as the offense shined, the pitching held strong. Beaubien got the start, and though her strikeout pitch may not have been on — only recording one in the game — she found other ways to get outs. After the Wolverines’ bats completed their four-run fifth inning, Beaubien retired the side in order, finishing a two-hit shutout and completing the 8-0 triumph.
“I don’t really think a whole lot about the strikeout numbers,” Beaubien said. “I was getting people jammed and balls put in play that weren’t quality contact. They can ground out, they can strike out; at the end of the day, it’s an out in my book.”
Michigan took advantage of a slate against weaker competition, picking up 24 hits and 19 runs across two games and earning two wins along the way.
At worst, these wins are an early-season confidence booster. At best, they could be the start of an offensive rejuvenation.