The No. 22 Michigan softball team was out of sorts heading into a bout against Central Michigan.
Recently, the Wolverines’ batting looked absent at times, remnants of their early-season struggles persisting.
And their pitching has continued to be inconsistent, with both aces showing exploitable faults at times.
Michigan (24-12 overall) cruised to victory against the Chippewas (16-17) in a dominant 5-1 affair. Freshman right-handers Lauren Derkowski and Annabelle Widra put together solid performances, and the bats woke up in an explosive fourth inning.
Derkowski has recently made a case for higher usage, as she has come in for several successful relief stints. She was rewarded with the start, and looked to prove she belonged in the permanent rotation.
Against her, though, the Chippewas wasted no time getting started. The leadoff batter, outfielder Abbey Tolmie, ripped a ball into left for a clean single. On the very next pitch, a standup double for first baseman Shannon Stein advanced Tolmie to third.
Derkowski looked shaken up, and a talk with senior catcher Hannah Carson followed. On the next at-bat, Derkowski was able to coax a weak foul ball out of outfielder Michaleigh Vallimont, and looked Tolmie back at third to prevent the run.
She still hadn’t found her groove though, and walked second baseman Skylar Coberly to load the bases for one of Central Michigan’s best sluggers, designated player Caitlyn Britton.
Another mound visit followed, this time with Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. Hutchins decided not to pull her, trusting Derkowski to end the inning on her own.
And she did, escaping with a quick strikeout and a foul out.
Both teams threatened to score in the third, but the game remained scoreless heading into the fourth.
The Chippewas struck first as left fielder Kelsey Alexander ripped one over the left field wall. Derkowski cleanly ended the inning, but now the Wolverines found themselves in a hole.
Michigan attempted to dig themselves out early, as junior outfielder Audrey LeClair led off the bottom of the fourth with a single, and McVey battled her way to a walk. Freshman utility player Annabelle Widra was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Burkhardt. Burkhardt also worked her way to an RBI walk, the third in a row. Right handed pitcher Kaitlyn Bean was pulled in favor of right hander Grace Lehto. Against Lehto, Livingston broke the walk streak, crushing the ball over the left field wall for a momentum-shifting grand slam.
Carson continued the offensive explosion with a single into short right field. Bump’s infield single advanced Carson, and put runners in scoring position yet again. A strikeout and a groundout ended the inning, but the damage was done. The pitcher’s duel transformed into a full-on offensive showcase, and Michigan found itself with a four run cushion.
Derkowski was replaced following a leadoff walk, in favor of Widra. In her first outing since March 4 against Kent State, Widra cleanly struck out the side for multiple innings to end the game.
A comfortable win is always a welcome event, and with it came other positives. Widra made an impact on both sides of the ball following her long absence, and Livingston continued her recent outburst of home runs. Derkowski also continued to prove her worth as a third starting option for Hutchins.
All these players made statements, and Michigan looked all the better for it.
Now what matters is translating this newfound momentum into the future.