The narrative going into the Michigan softball team’s elimination game against the University of Illinois-Chicago was shaky to say the least, for both the Wolverines and freshman left hander Meghan Beaubien.
Each party had extended periods of dominance — two double-digit win streaks and a 32-4 record, respectively — but both were slipping and losing confidence at the wrong time. In losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals and Notre Dame in the first game of the NCAA Regionals, Beaubien was far from a force to be reckoned with.
With the season on the line, though, Michigan was confident in its freshman. And like it did most of the season, the Wolverines’ bet paid off, this time to the tune of a 6-0 win over the Flames.
After not recording a strikeout until the sixth inning against Notre Dame, Beaubien pitched a five-inning no hitter against UIC. The freshman started the game by tossing three straight strikes to strikeout a UIC batter and ended the first inning with two more strikeouts. By the time the second inning was over, Beaubien did it all over again.
“If they wanted things to change we had to change our approach and our mindset and it started with Meghan Beaubien,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She did it. She turned herself back around and I think that gives the team confidence.”
Once Michigan got comfortable offensively too, the Flames were helpless. UIC wasn’t able to do anything against Beaubien’s arm, but things started to fall off the rails for the Flames when the Wolverines held firm to their plate discipline. Up 5-0 in the fifth inning, Michigan drew three straight walks, and scored again when Lou Allan was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Even when the hits weren’t falling right away, Michigan maintained that confidence in other areas. Junior outfielder Natalie Peters, for example, stole third base while the Wolverines were still hitless.
Peters’ base running caught the Flames off guard, causing an error by the UIC third baseman that let her cross home plate for the first score of the game. Two innings later, Peters hit a double for the Wolverines’ first hit of the game. Senior first baseman Tera Blanco followed that with a home run to deep left field.
Despite Beaubien carrying a no-hitter into the end of the fifth inning, Hutchins pulled the left hander for freshman right hander Sara Schaefer, who closed the game out with two Ks while allowing one hit. Although Hutchins could’ve rode Beaubien for the final two innings, putting in Schaefer let Michigan’s other freshman pitcher get a taste of the postseason run while giving Beaubien some rest after three high-stakes games.
“It was a team effort from all of them.” Hutchins said. “I thought Meghan Beaubien looked like herself and the team looked like themselves. We had a little fun, our confidence was better, and we’re excited to get up and play ball tomorrow.”
The Wolverines will face Notre Dame Sunday at 12 p.m. EST in a elimination rematch of Friday’s game. Hutchins, Beaubien and the rest of the Wolverines know it will be crucial to keep that confidence they found against UIC.
“Now they need to have a good mindset tomorrow,” Hutchins said. “It’s going to be tough but we’re here to win a tournament so our mindset is one thing that we can control and I thought we did a good job.”