The Michigan infield gathered in the pitcher’s circle around fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga and coach Carol Hutchins. It was the top of the seventh inning, and Central Michigan left fielder Lacy Tolfree had just loaded the bases with a single to right field that brought the tying run to the plate in a 5-1 game.
“I wanted to stop their momentum a little bit,” Hutchins said. “I wanted to check in and see how (Driesenga) felt. I thought she was fighting well, and I told the defense that I wanted them to stay back because we were going to give up runs for outs. Just get an out; whatever out was in front of them.”
The meeting ended, and the players dispersed. In the very next at-bat, the second-ranked Wolverines (15-2 Big Ten, 38-4 overall) executed their coach’s plan to perfection. Central Michigan second baseman Chel DeLamielleure hit a groundball to junior shortstop Abby Ramirez, who calmly flipped the ball over to junior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano to record the first out.
Driesenga would take care of the rest, striking out the next batter before inducing a weak ground ball to herself to secure the win, 5-2.
“I just (remember) to trust the defense, and to make the plays,” Driesenga said. “They’re going to hit the ball on the ground. So I just (try not) to be too careful with my pitches, and still just trust it and snap it.”
It wasn’t the first time in the game that the Wolverines had struggled to put the Chippewas away. The high-powered Michigan offense left eight runners on base throughout the game, but still scored a run in the third, fourth and fifth innings to establish a 3-0 lead.
Central Michigan (7-9-1 Mid-American Conference, 20-23-1 overall) answered back with a run of their own in the top of the sixth, but senior center fielder Sierra Lawrence crushed a two-run homer to left field to extend the lead heading into the seventh inning.
Though the five runs were enough to win the game, the Wolverines still weren’t satisfied with their offensive effort.
“We had 13 pop-outs,” Hutchins said. “Anybody can catch pop-ups, and we needed to make better adjustments. (Ramirez’s) ground ball past third, (Lawrence’s) ground ball: those were good adjustments. (Blanco) shortened up her swing, and that’s why it went over the fence. Those guys made some adjustments, and that’s what I want to see the rest of them do.”
Michigan will now return to Big Ten action this weekend in a road series against Penn State. The Nittany Lions (13-4, 26-18) are third in the conference standings, and on paper, they are the Wolverines’ toughest remaining test in the regular season.
If Michigan is unable to make adjustments and capitalize on its opportunities, it may find itself in tight games just like Wednesday’s.