Saturday afternoon, the No. 15 seed Michigan softball team will face James Madison in its second game of the NCAA Regional. The Wolverines shut out St. Francis (PA) in a run rule while the Dukes beat DePaul by a slightly smaller margin, 5-2. The winner of this game will advance to the championship game of the regional — one step closer to the College World Series — and the loser will fall back to face the winner of St. Francis-DePaul matchup.
While a 15-game win streak and a Big Ten title should be buoying the Wolverines’ confidence, this game is going to be a battle. This season, James Madison won the CAA tournament for the fifth time in program history and topped Michigan with a 20-game win streak. It’s clear why the Dukes have had so much success this year — their batting averages are remarkable. All but one of their starting players hits above a .300 clip, five of whom are above .400. As a team, they hold 95 home runs on the season.
But if anyone can stop them in their tracks, it will be Michigan. James Madison hasn’t faced incredibly strong competition since the start of their conference games — they ended each of their three CAA tournament games in five innings — which could put them at a disadvantage against the Wolverines who have learned to fight from behind by beating strong teams such as Minnesota and UCLA.
Like Michigan, the Dukes primarily rely on two pitchers, redshirt senior right-hander Megan Good and junior right-hander Odicci Alexander. Both are threats in the circle and have posted ERAs below 2.00 this season, slightly lower than the Wolverines’ freshman right-hander Alex Storako and sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien.
This won’t be the first time these teams have met, though. Michigan fell to James Madison, 3-0, in early March. It was a hard-fought battle, scoreless into extra innings, until a few bad pitches from Storako let the Dukes take the lead. The freshman pitcher had a tendency to struggle in later innings, something she’s corrected as the season has gone on.
Storako’s consistency is far from the only improvement the Wolverines have made. While their offense was noticeably lacking in their previous match-up, the batting averages of each member of the lineup have improved.
Michigan should expect another hard-fought battle, but with the home field advantage and experience getting out of tight spots, the Wolverines are primed for the opportunity to end James Madison’s win streak.