In a pitching duel, the No. 22 Michigan softball team (19-4 Big Ten), prevailed over Maryland (11-15), 2-0, in the first of a Saturday afternoon double header.
The Michigan offense posed a threat early. In the bottom of the first inning, after senior infielder Natalia Rodriguez drew a walk, senior infielder Lou Allan belted a laser-beam hit to third base. Third baseman Michaela Jones bobbled it, then threw late to first base, advancing Rodriguez to third in the process. With the corners loaded, Maryland right-hander Courtney Wyche worked her way out of the jam, retiring sophomore infielder Julia Jimenez and junior catcher Hannah Carson to end the inning.
The Wolverines jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Sophomore utility player Lauren Esman sparked the attack, sending a double into left-center field.
“That’s why we recruited (Esman),” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Because she’s a hitter.”
Taylor Bump then raked an 0-2 pitch off the base of the right field wall for a double that scored Esman from third. Later in the inning, junior outfielder Lexie Blair stepped up to bat. Last night against Maryland, Blair lost her season-long 21 game hit streak. Here, she responded with a one-hopper over shortstop Ruby Butler’s shoulder for a single, sending Bump home from second to give the Wolverines a two-run advantage.
As the offense built a Michigan lead, junior right-hander Alex Storako kept the Terrapins’ bats on lock-down. In the top of the third, Storako struck out the side. Through the first four innings, Storako struck out six batters while surrendering only two hits. She was aided by flawless fielding, including difficult grabs from Allan. Allan extended her glove over the foul line to snag a rocket off the bat of Katie Dustin for the final out of the fourth.
“It just gives me so much more confidence to be able to just really throw the ball in there and know that my defense has my back at all times,” Storako said. “All pitchers should be able to trust in their defense, and I’m lucky that I’m able to.”
Meanwhile, Maryland’s Wyche settled-in at the circle as the game went on. After the two-run second inning, Wyche seized control of the Wolverine lineup. Over the final four innings, she ceded only two hits, facing minimal pressure on the base paths. Like Storako, Wyche too was aided by stellar fielding. With one out, Allan smashed a 3-1 pitch to the warning track. Center fielder Jaeda McFarland stumbled on the warning as she tracked the ball through the sky but kept her footing to make the difficult catch on the wall.
The strong Maryland defense continued in the bottom of the sixth. With first base loaded and two outs, freshman outfielder Sierra Kersten propelled a steamer to the Terrapins’ Jones, who was up playing the bunt. Jones defended the hot corner, snagging the speedy laser beam for the final out of the inning, the game remaining 2-0.
“We had a lot of well-hit balls that did not go our way,” Hutchins said. “If you hit it well that’s all you can do.”
Wyche and her defense’s efforts, however, were not enough to overcome the Wolverines and their two runs. Storako continued her success through the first four innings. In the final three frames, she posted another five strikeouts while giving up only one more hit.
In the final at-bat of the afternoon, Storako struckout Ellefson and ecstatically stormed off the circle as her teammates exited the dugout in elation. The out capped off an 11 strikeout complete game shutout, propelling the Wolverines to victory.