Michigan softball went without a hit through the first five innings. Northwestern did not.
That was the story of the game as the No. 20 Wolverines (21-5 Big Ten) put up just two hits all game and lost to Northwestern (22-7), 4-1.
The first inning looked similar for the pair of Big Ten powers. Senior pitcher Meghan Beaubien only saw three batters in the top. She struckout the first then let her infield do the talking for the remaining two. Wildcats pitcher Danielle Williams matched Beaubien’s effort, as junior outfielder Lexie Blair’s attempt at a 2-2 pitch was caught by infielder Nikki Kuchran. Senior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez advanced to first after being hit, but got out trying to steal second. On the very next pitch, senior first baseman Lou Allan swung at air and struckout.
Beaubien and her counterpart in purple, Williams, controlled the early innings. Both made short work of the batters they faced.
Northwestern broke through the pitching battle in the top of the third. Runners got to the corners and the Wolverines left the inning down by one. At the time only giving up one felt like a victory. But then at the bottom, Michigan failed to generate offense once again, so they trailed by one.
That was just how the game went for the Wolverines. They were swinging at wild pitches and never looked comfortable behind the plate. However, the game was still very close due to Michigan’s fielding effort and a calm performance from Beaubien.
Then, the top of the fifth came, and the game was blown wide open.
The first two Wildcats who stepped up to the plate were walked by Beaubien. Then, a bunt from Skyler Shellymyer loaded the bases with no outs, much to the approval of the Northwestern bench and traveling fans. Beaubien retired the next Wildcat hitter, but it was no use. A deep ball from Jordyn Rudd barely stayed in the park, but still brought home two runs for Northwestern, extending its lead to three. Moments later, Beaubien faced loaded bases for a second time in the inning. And, for the second time, it generated runs for the Wildcats. By the end of the inning, Michigan trailed 4-0. The offense was going to have to step up and provide a spark for the Wolverines.
It did not.
Northwestern’s Williams forced a 1-2-3 inning and the fifth was over.
“Well, I think we’re just swinging really tight,” Blair said of their offense. “And that’s what was causing us to have dinky hit strikeouts and things like that.”
Senior Sarah Schaefer came in to relieve Beaubien on the mound. She proved to be a spark in some capacity, forcing a 1-2-3 inning and keeping Michigan in the game.
It was then Taylor Bump who came up to the plate for the Wolverines. The senior had, like the rest of her teammates, been held hitless so far. That quickly changed. Bump sent one deep into the outfield stands and provided Michigan with a spark.
And, for a brief moment, that spark burst into something greater. The 4-1 game felt closer, the home dugout was yelling with the crowd and Alumni Field was loud for the first time all night. A bunt from freshman Sierra Kersten that got her to first only added to this newfound excitement. The leadoff Blair came to the plate with a chance to send the crowd into a frenzy and give the Wolverines hope.
That didn’t happen.
Blair fired a line drive straight into the Wildcats shortstop Maeve Nelson, who proceeded to throw the ball to first and get Kersten out as she was caught between first and second.
The spark was gone.
The seventh was just more of the same as Williams put the finishing touches on her dominant performance and finished off the Wolverines.
“I thought they had much better discipline than us,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said in a somber postgame zoom. “They win the discipline game. Hands down.”