The No. 2 Michigan softball team was holding onto a tight 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning against Oregon State when Tera Blanco stepped into the batter’s box.
The sophomore had started the day as the Wolverines’ pitcher, giving up three runs in the third inning, and taking over first base duties in the fourth.
She redeemed her rough outing on the mound with a pivotal at-bat, lacing a triple into right field past a diving outfielder to increase the lead to 6-3 — a lead her team would not relinquish on its way to a 9-3 win over the Beavers.
“I had two strikes a lot in my at-bats today,” Blanco explained. “I was just thinking about getting a pitch near the zone and getting a piece of my bat on it.”
Blanco’s clutch hitting after re-entering the game as an infielder, though, was representative of Michigan’s weekend at the Judi Garman Classic in California.
The team (18-2) found a variety of ways to win en route to a 5-0 record at the tournament.
The Wolverines displayed explosive and timely hitting. They pitched three shutouts. And they played dazzling defense.
“I thought we had a great week,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We saw a lot. We’re getting better in all phases of the game. Being together for nine days is quite a growing experience just for us as a team. We showed we could be a very tough team, and I’m pleased with that.”
The tournament started Thursday when the Wolverines played No. 18 Missouri, Michigan’s highest-ranked opponent of the weekend. The Tigers, though, were no match for the Wolverines’ combination of clustered hitting and dominant pitching on that first day.
As junior Megan Betsa hurled one of her best games of the season, tossing five innings of three-hit, shutout ball, Michigan put together two explosive innings of offense, scoring five runs in the second inning and seven in the fourth on its way to a 13-0 run-rule victory.
Later that day, Blanco took the mound and went the distance against Long Beach State with a complete game shutout, while the offense scored five runs in both the second and seventh innings, giving Michigan an 11-0 win.
“I’m always getting better every single weekend and getting (more) confident in the circle,” Blanco said. “I have confidence in my team — it really helps with me being relaxed out there.”
A 24-0 run differential after two games had the Wolverines cruising, but Friday’s matchup against California posed a different challenge.
While Sara Driesenga pitched a gem of a game, tossing a three-hit, complete game shutout, the bats cooled off, forcing the Wolverines to grind out runs.
Two errors from the Golden Bears led to two Michigan runs in the first inning, before the Wolverines added insurance runs later in the game. The team tallied just six hits on the day, a departure from its first two games, but was able to make them count, emerging with a 4-0 win.
Later that day, the Wolverines found themselves in need of a comeback against North Carolina.
After scoring three runs in the fourth inning to command a 6-2 lead, Michigan gave the lead right back. Outfielder Tracy Chandless hit a three-run homer for the Tar Heels, and a fielding error and bunt scored the tying run.
But Michigan showed its trademark resilience in the fifth by scoring five runs to take back the lead once and for all, emerging with a hard-fought 11-6 victory.
“We didn’t pitch our best, but we had players step up to help us get the win,” Hutchins said of the North Carolina game. “That’s what resolve is — you’ve just gotta battle and not get caught up in the outcome.”