The 2021 regular season came to an end.
In a slow burning affair, the No. 18 Michigan softball team (36-6 Big Ten) came away with the 2-1 win and the series sweep over Rutgers (8-36) in the emotional final regular season game at Alumni Field for the 2021 season.
“It was definitely emotional to start off the game.” senior first baseman Lou Allan said. “A couple of my close friends on the team were crying and stuff. They’re like, ‘I don’t know what to do without you,’ and I was like, ‘Don’t make me cry before the game, I’m not trying to cry.’ ”
With it being senior day, more seniors than usual were notched into the lineup, including starting pitcher Sarah Schaeffer, who got her second start since 2019.
“I thought she totally did her part,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She did a nice job. She doesn’t get a lot of opportunities. It was her senior day and I was thrilled to put her in.”
Both teams were silent offensively early on. Neither pitcher was lights-out either, rather the bats were just not capitalizing on the given opportunities.
That was until the top of the third when Scarlet Knight first baseman Gabrielle Calloway cranked one over the left-center wall for a home run, putting Rutgers up 1-0. Schaeffer had left the ball hanging high and Calloway took the opportunity to help her team strike first.
Trailing by one in a low-scoring game, the Wolverines needed to start doing something different.
In the top of the fourth, Michigan made a pitching change. Junior right-hander Alex Storako came in for Schaeffer, who left the game with three hits allowed, one earned run and two strikeouts.
In the bottom of the frame, Allan reached base with a grounder into center field where sophomore utility player Audrey LeClair came on as a pinch runner. She stole second, and then on a hit to the Rutgers shortstop from junior catcher Hannah Carson, LeClair found herself in a pickle. She ran back and forth between bases until she eventually got out of it, diving safely into third. During the commotion, Carson took second, resulting in two runners in scoring position for sophomore infielder Julia Jimenez who lined out to center, allowing LeClair to tag up at third before running across home plate far ahead of the throw.
Both teams went silent again in the fifth, including a one-two-three inning for the Wolverines, their third of the game.
“It was a tough game,” Hutchins said. “And you’ve got to give credit to (Rutgers right-hander Ashley) Hitchcock.”
Hitchcock ended the game having only conceded three hits, but it wasn’t enough to pull her team to victory.
The Scarlet Knights threatened to score in the sixth when Kiana Workman smacked one deep towards the wall, but junior outfielder Lexie Blair tracked it down and made the catch with one hand against the blue barrier surrounding Alumni Field.
The Wolverines had better luck. Allan cracked a moonshot to center field for a solo homerun, giving Michigan a 2-1 lead and its first lead of the game.
“I knew that we just needed people to get on,” Allan said, “So that we can hit some runners in, score some runs, and I think that that kind of just kept me calm and focused.”
It ended up being the deciding run in the offensively-stunted contest, giving the Wolverines a final win percentage of .857 — their best since 2016.
The 2021 Michigan softball team gathered together in front of the dugout following the final out, a blue Gatorade shower dowsing Hutchins from head to toe. Cheering and pumping their fists, they raised the Big Ten regular season trophy above their heads.
Now the postseason, once on the horizon, is the only thing left for the Wolverines.