It hasn’t always been easy for the No. 23 Michigan softball team to stay confident.
Through unexpected losses, veteran injuries and the typical ups and downs of the Big Ten season, the Wolverines have faced their fair share of adversity. During the worst of times, Michigan lost its confidence, and its play suffered as it dug itself an early hole in the conference standings.
But this weekend against Wisconsin, the Wolverines seemed to put those past confidence issues behind them. With offensive explosions and clutch pitching performances, Michigan parlayed the energy of its five straight series wins into capturing its first weekend series sweep — further building its confidence along the way.
“It’s a big thing just to prove to ourselves that we could (sweep a series),” graduate second baseman Melina Livingston said. “Us building and really showing the Big Ten what we’re made of is going to prove to be really big for us going into the Big Ten Tournament.”
It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for the Wolverines, though. In by far their highest-scoring series to date, their pitching staff faced some struggles. The arms gave up 12 runs in the series, including nine in Sunday’s series finale — tying the mark for the most runs Michigan has given up in a game this season.
Fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien was off her game all weekend, allowing six earned runs in just 2.2 innings pitched. Senior right-hander Alex Storako tossed a complete-game gem on Saturday, but that success gave way to an early exit on Sunday. Storako gave up a three-run home run after just a third of an inning, exiting the game immediately after.
But after a season where she earned an expanding role — and gained confidence along the way — freshman right-hander Lauren Derkowski stepped up.
“I’m just keeping my confidence high,” Derkowski said on April 12 “I’m just trusting that I’m pitching for a reason.”
Once again, Derkowski proved her worth on the mound. Even after the Badgers knocked out Michigan’s more experienced pitchers, she remained calm and collected. Pitching six innings across Friday and Sunday’s games, Derkowski allowed no earned runs, holding Wisconsin’s explosive offense silent.
As Derkowski calmly handled the Badgers in the circle, the offense got its opportunity to display the confidence it built over the past few weeks.
The Wolverines dominated Wisconsin’s pitching staff to the tune of 41 hits and 29 runs across the three games. And after managing just nine home runs through the first 19 games of conference play, Michigan slugged four deep shots in this series alone, thanks to increased confidence and an aggressive mindset at the plate.
Even down five runs after the fourth inning in Sunday’s series finale, the bats remained sure of themselves.
“We knew that we had seen that pitcher all weekend,” Livingston said. “There was really no doubt in any of our minds that we were going to score more runs.”
Once again, the Wolverines justified their confidence. They chipped away at the Badgers’ lead, scoring nine unanswered runs to capture the final game and complete the sweep.
Now, with just the postseason ahead, Michigan is playing its best softball at the right time. The Wolverines will ride a five-game winning streak into the Big Ten Tournament this week in East Lansing, including some of the most complete games they have played all year.
And they couldn’t be any more confident.
“This weekend gave us a ton of confidence, ” Livingston said. “All season we keep going and building and building and building up.
“Our team, we still haven’t peaked.”