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It’s no secret that the No. 21 Michigan softball team’s offense has been really good as of late.

But on their way to a 9-1 win over Western Michigan, the Wolverines’ hitting was far less efficient than it has been. As a result, the team had to rely on other methods in order to score.

Walks, the antithesis of the aggressive hitting style that Michigan coaches extoll, were the driving force behind the team’s offense.

“At some point hitters learn to command the zone, they understand what’s a strike, (and) what’s a hittable pitch,” associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said.

The Wolverines stayed patient and commanded the zone against the Broncos, drawing six walks during the game. These baserunners — along with the extra at-bats they allowed for — drastically impacted the game’s result. 

In the second, senior outfielder Lexie Blair’s two-RBI double would have only scored one if it wasn’t for an earlier four-pitch walk from junior outfielder Audrey LeClair. These two runs provided a cushion for graduate left-hander Meghan Beaubien and eased the pressure on the defense as a whole. 

It wasn’t just free passes but unearned runs as well.

Six of the nine runs scored by Michigan were unearned, a rarity in today’s sure-handed softball environment. The Wolverines played small ball and were content to grind its way to unearned runs.

Two innings later, sophomore second baseman Sierra Kersten earned her first of two walks of the game. After graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt reached base on a error by shortstop Lauren Porter, all of a sudden Michigan had runners in scoring position for senior catcher Hannah Carson. Carson’s grounder up the middle scored Kersten, another run that would not have been possible without walks and errors.

Late in the game, bench players — again, not the typical source of offense — played a large role in ending the game early for Michigan.

“Base running or being or being a pinch runner off the bench may not be the most glorious role,” Tholl said. “But I’ll tell you, it’s just as important as at bats, and it’s just as important as making plays at third base.”

While still able to generate soft hits, the Wolverines’ offensive resurgence of the last few weeks was nowhere to be seen. But Michigan nonetheless grinded its way to a win, and a dominant one at that.

The Wolverines’ bats will not always show up. With the slog of Big Ten play approaching, along with an increase in quality of opponents, opposing pitchers will be able to shut down the offense. But even against a dominant pitcher, small ball can still work.

And on Tuesday, small ball won the game. Later, it could save the team’s season.