Michigan softball hasn’t lost to Penn State in twelve years. Friday, that almost changed.
The 22nd-ranked Wolverines (35-11 overall, 17-1 Big Ten) were almost bested by the Nittany Lions (23-27, 6-12) in the first game of the series which ended 6-5 in favor of Michigan.
Senior second baseman Faith Canfield led her team through the first inning. In the top, Canfield dove to grab what would have been an infield single on the first base line. Just as it looked like the ball was slipping out of her glove, Canfield regained control, ending the inning. As the team's leadoff batter, the senior drilled a ball deep into center field for a double, though the inning ended before Canfield could score.
Sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien’s pitching struggled in the second inning, walking one batter and giving a hit to another who has one hit on the season.
“It wasn’t (Beaubien’s) best night and that happens,” said Michigan assistant coach Jennifer Brundage. “It’s part of the game. I can count on her to work on making the adjustments that she needs to make.”
Luckily for the Wolverines, the infielders were ready to pick up the slack. When the Nittany Lions had the opportunity to load the bases, the infield delivered, completing a double play to end the inning scoreless.
Next, it was time for freshman outfielder Lexie Blair to step up. As Beaubien struggled to close out the third inning, Penn State lined a ball to left field where Blair made the catch to end another inning 0-0.
“We played great defense,” Brundage said. “Our defense has been a strength all season and it was a strength of ours tonight. They did their part behind Meghan.”
Uncharacteristic of the Michigan’s recent offensive hot streak, the Wolverines struggled making contact with the ball in early innings. They didn’t get on the scoreboard until the third inning, something that hadn’t happened in two weeks, since Michigan’s game against Ohio State.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Wolverines’ bats starting swinging. Senior catcher Katie Alexander started the inning with a line drive to right field. While the Nittany Lions’ outfielder initially had the ball in her glove — making the play look like it would be an out — she fumbled it, leaving Alexander safe on first. A sacrifice bunt advanced freshman utility player Grace Chelemen — pinch running for Alexander — to second. Canfield, filing a ball to the same spot as her first inning double, sent Chelemen home for the Wolverines’ first run of the game. Canfield followed the freshman home on a single by Blair.
This offensive push began to falter as Michigan went scoreless in the following inning.
The Nittany Lions cut Michigan’s lead in half with a leadoff home run over the right field wall in the top of the fifth inning. After the next batter got on base, Penn State repeated this performance with a bomb over the left field wall, leaving the Wolverine at a one run deficit. But Michigan maintained it’s composure with a strikeout by Beaubien and two putouts by Canfield to close out the inning without further damage.
“Our team has a fighter's mentality,” Brundage said. “Being behind in the score doesn’t faze us. If anything, it helps us lock in better. We’re comfortable playing from behind. We don’t give up. We keep fighting.”
Added junior third baseman Uden: “We’re doing a hell of a job of (playing at a deficit) consistently every weekend. We’ve had a couple games where we’re coming back from behind and we look good.”
The Nittany Lions’ lead didn’t last long as the top of the Wolverines’ lineup came up to bat. Canfield started the inning with a double lined to center field for the third time of the night. After a single by senior outfielder Natalie Peters, Canfield scored on a single by Blair. Michigan failed to regain the lead after several fly outs left Peters and Blair stranded on base.
The infield held Penn State to three runs in the top of the sixth with one strikeout and two putouts by sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez and senior first baseman Alex Sobczak.
Peters got the ball rolling again for the Wolverines in the bottom of the sixth. Canfield — three for three on the day’s at-bats — had started the inning by being hit by a pitch. Next up to bat, Blair filed a ball deep into center field, scoring Canfield from second and Peters from first and giving Michigan a two run lead.
With two outs and two strikes in the top of the seventh inning, Penn State tied the game with a two run home run, putting the Wolverines’ victory in jeopardy.
In the first at-bat in the bottom of the inning, Uden delivered exactly what Michigan needed in the next inning: a walk off homer to clinch the game for the Wolverines and keep their win streak going.