For the second game in a row, the Michigan softball team found itself in a dog fight late in Sunday’s series finale against Penn State. On Saturday, the Wolverines escaped with a walk-off single to win their fourth straight game.
But on Sunday, they wouldn’t be so lucky. Failing to sweep the Nittany Lions, Michigan (23-12 overall, 4-5 Big Ten) dropped its first game to Penn State (23-15, 5-4) since 2006, 3-2, after surrendering a home run in the seventh inning.
The afternoon’s action started slowly with a hitless inning-and-a-half, a trend that later doomed the Wolverines. But in the bottom of the second, however, the pace picked up rapidly.
Michigan struck first, albeit in a slightly strange fashion, when graduate second baseman Melina Livingston reached first on a bloop line drive to left. She advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third after tagging on a foul pop-up and to home on a throwing error.
Penn State wasted no time with its response though, bombing a deep two-run home run to right field off the bat of designated player Ally Kurland to put the Nittany Lions ahead. But this lead didn’t last long either, as freshman utility player Annabelle Widra crushed a deep ball of her own to center field for her first career home run, tying the game at two in the bottom of the third. That score would hold for the next three innings.
While both teams found ways to put runs on the board early, the game was by no means a slugfest. In fact, through four innings, more runs had been registered than hits, and outside of the occasional base hit or walk, both teams were silent at the plate.
“There were not enough well-hit balls,” associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “Credit Penn State’s pitching for not giving us anything to tee off on, but we could’ve been much better and more aggressive at the plate.”
In the fifth inning, Penn State threatened with runners on first and second and no outs, but senior right-hander Alex Storako battled back for three quick outs and escaped unscathed.
In a similar fashion, Michigan moved a runner to third in the bottom of the sixth, but nothing would come of it. Nittany Lions’ reliever Bailey Parshall escaped the inning, and the game was sent to the seventh inning tied for the second straight day.
And in the seventh, Penn State showed up and put itself ahead for good with a home run from catcher Cassie Lindmark. The ball just barely made its way over the right field wall beyond the outstretched glove of junior right fielder Audrey LeClair, but it was enough.
The Wolverines went down in order in the seventh, and fell 3-2. But the game wasn’t lost in the seventh; it was lost in wasted at-bats and missed opportunities. The Wolverines didn’t make enough contact to put themselves in positions to score, and in the rare times they were threatening to score, they couldn’t string hits together. Other than in the bottom of the sixth inning, Michigan neither created nor sustained pressure on the Nittany Lions.
And frankly, Penn State wasn’t any better, registering a measly three hits all afternoon. Other than the two long balls, Storako was dominant, pitching for 17 strikeouts.
“You can’t fault her,” Tholl said. “Doing what she’s doing with 17 strikeouts is enough for us to win the ball game.”
Allowing just three hits and striking out 17 should be enough to win a game. Tholl knows it, Storako knows it, and most of all, the Wolverines’ offense knows it. But someone has to emerge victorious, and with Michigan matching the Nittany Lions’ lackluster performance at the plate, three hits was all it took to hand Michigan its first loss to Penn State since the oldest players on its roster were in elementary school.
“Hopefully they’re mad,” Tholl said. “Hopefully it creates some fire underneath them. Because this was a game that we were lethargic from the first pitch offensively, and we never recovered.
“Today we disappeared, and we can’t have those moments of people disappearing at the ballpark, because we need them.”