When junior catcher Aidan Falk stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning, the stakes could not have been higher. The No. 2 Michigan softball team held a 1-0 lead, but the Ohio State lineup had threatened throughout the game.
In the previous inning, Falk had caught a tough foul pop-up to help her team escape a bases-loaded jam. Now, she had a chance to make an impact at the plate.
She did just that, launching a three-run home run to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 4-0 en route to a 8-0, run-rule victory.
“I was just looking for a ball to hit hard,” Falk said. “Just trying to see the back of the ball. I was trying to do that in my at-bats, and finally, one connected.”
With the series-opening win Friday, Michigan (9-2 Big Ten, 31-4 overall) temporarily wrested first place in the Big Ten conference standings from the Buckeyes (9-2-1, 25-9-1), and in doing so, the Wolverines turned in a complete performance.
Junior right-hander Megan Betsa was on top of her game, pitching a shutout that was aided by 13 strikeouts and stingy defense, and the offense came alive late to help Michigan pull away from Ohio State.
“Credit goes to Megan Betsa,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She kept us in the game, (and got us) through a couple tight situations.
“I really felt Megan gave us a lot of good energy. We had some great battles in our at-bats early in the game. I thought our energy kinda came from the mound. That pitcher can give us energy, and our hitters really did a nice job staying in there.”
While Betsa blew past the Buckeyes lineup early on, Michigan was having trouble putting runs on the board. The Wolverines’ usually explosive offense tallied only one hit through the first three innings and only one run through the first four.
But their offensive struggles ended in the fifth inning with Falk’s three-run blast. In the sixth, the floodgates opened, and Michigan ended the game early with four runs.
Despite the late offensive onslaught, the Wolverines couldn’t have won without the performance from their starting pitcher, who has been at the top of her game lately. Betsa is currently working on an 18 inning scoreless streak.
And Falk has been her battery mate the entire way, with the sophomore catcher working to keep her defensive game sharp.
“I really try to put the ball into the center of my body when I block it, because that’ll help her out a lot,” Falk said. “And then I try to block the ball … sometimes it doesn’t go too hot. But I just like to give her as much energy as I can, and do my part behind the plate because she definitely does her part on the mound.”
Added Betsa: “I think we just work really well together. Going off Sweet leaving, (Falk) was the next step up, and we worked a lot together over the summer. I think that kind of gave her a little bit of an advantage. She knows my pitches and how they move. Not that Alex doesn’t do a great job behind the plate, but some people just work better with other people, and I think that we click really well.”
The duo will look to improve their already strong rapport as Michigan attempts to take a definitive lead in the conference standings this weekend.