Sometimes, momentum can carry.
That was what the No. 22 Michigan softball team (21-11 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) experienced Wednesday, as the late hitting surge that capped last weekend continued through a 6-1 victory over Michigan State (20-17, 1-6).
Despite bats on both sides eluding contact through most of the first inning, the Wolverines brought two walks in with a strike to right center from senior third baseman Taylor Bump.
That marked Bump’s third RBI double in the last two games, an emblematic opening to the scoring from the upperclassman.
“The upperclassmen have definitely improved, which I’ve challenged them on,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “They’re all upperclassmen, the juniors and seniors, and we count on them. Right now, we’re in a bunker. We got to fight our way out of it, and this is all about one game at a time and we need to be all in each game.”
Also like last weekend, when Michigan blew two early leads against No. 9 Northwestern, early developments increased the probability that they needed more than one scoring spurt to win.
Senior right-hander Alex Storako bled her 11th home run of the season to Spartans second-baseman Zaquai Dumas, cutting the two-run lead in half.
“I think people are scouting her, and really trying to get a piece of her ball,” senior catcher Hannah Carson said. “They definitely are watching film. Sometimes they just get a piece of it and it goes, and I think Alex applies a lot of the power so sometimes they just square it up then it just goes.”
After a follow-up single, Storako tallied her fourth strikeout of the game to retire the side.
Michigan State’s offensive threats began to die down further in the third. After another strikeout, its lone baserunner was thrown out while stealing by Carson to end the inning.
“I think that fires us up,” Carson said. “One of our biggest things lately has been having energy no matter what happens, just have energy and just pump up the person next to you. Having that strikeout and then the throwout just gives us the energy that we need to get good at bats.”
The Wolverines, on the other hand, stepped up to the task of finding more contact.
A hard-hit single to right from grad-transfer outfielder Kristina Burkhardt was brought home by Carson, who made it all the way to third base following a throwing error.
In the top of the fourth, it was all about the Wolverines’ field, a rare feature of Storako’s strikeout-filled starts. Freshman left-fielder Ellie Sieler caught a flyout, and Bump executed a groundout and popout to keep the Spartans dormant. Storako fed off of that with two straight strikeouts in a one-two-three fifth.
“I thought (Storako) got better,” Hutchins said. “It was good to see her take the lead and then start mowing them down … so it’s good to see her confidence and hope it’s where it needs to be.”
Just when it seemed like Michigan’s action at the plate would settle down, another Carson hit for extra bases brought another spark. A homer to right from Livingston capitalized, bringing the lead to five. A Bump smack threatened to join in on the action, but a diving catch from Michigan State rightfielder Marissa Trivelpiece ended the Wolverines’ third scoring spurt.
While Michigan’s hits kept piling up, it was clear that Michigan State could not match, as junior first-baseman Lauren Esman tallied yet another double. This brought out pinch hitters to give more of the roster some reps for the rest of the inning, given the secure lead.
As Storako put away the last three batters of the game, it’s hard not to imagine her relative calm with the most coherent batting performance from the Wolverines in weeks. Since Michigan had gotten off to a negative start in conference play, this game may carry a bit of needed momentum into the future.
“I think we’re just capitalizing on the good things that we did against Northwestern and then learning from the things that didn’t go our way,” Carson said. “So just taking the good from that and applying it to the next games that we have is what worked for us today.”
But for now, it meant a win over their in-state rivals.
“To me every game is a rivalry game — I’ve never met an opponent that doesn’t hate us,” Hutchins said. “But it is always special to play Michigan State, and, trust me, they’re having a pretty good year. They can play, and that pitcher can pitch. So we’re looking forward to playing them again.”