Lauren Esman wasted no time.
Pinch-hitting in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and the score tied, the freshman utility player belted the first pitch she saw from Louisville’s Taylor Roby over the right-center field fence for a go-ahead grand slam.
Esman’s heroics sealed an 8-4 win for No. 11 Michigan softball (9-0) over Louisville (2-7), capping off a weekend sweep which also included a 6-2 win over the Cardinals and 4-3 and 4-0 wins over No. 25 North Carolina (5-5) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“I was just ‘see ball, hit ball,’ that was my mentality,” Esman said. “Just attack early. I knew I needed to score some runs because it was a tie ballgame, so I was just trying to hit it to the right side. It just happened to go out.”
Prior to taking the lead, the Wolverines had to claw themselves out of a 3-1 hole, their first and only deficit of the weekend. In its first turn at bat after Louisville took the lead, Michigan answered. Senior outfielder Thais Gonzalez drove in a run with a single to right field and junior infielder Taylor Bump blasted a two-run home run to center field.
“This team, they’re very resilient,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I’ve said that since the fall. You know, we accept that we’re not perfect, and we’re just going to keep working to be excellent.”
Esman might have provided the weekend’s most memorable moment, yet she was not alone in contributing at the plate. Across the four-game slate, production came from every spot in the lineup. Seven different Wolverines registered multi-hit games, with senior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad having two such performances.
Michigan averaged 5.5 runs per game, a welcome sign after it mustered just three runs against USF and Fresno State to close out the USF-Rawlings Invitational a week ago.
“I have confidence in every player in our lineup when they come up,” Hutchins said. “We all know that there’s a chance to fail, so we don’t worry about that. We just go up there and try to get the best situation we can.”
Sophomore outfielder Lexie Blair had a bounce-back tournament, looking more like her freshman year self when she hit .405 as a unanimous All-Big Ten first team selection. Despite entering Friday’s game on a three-game hitless streak, Blair went 5-for-14 on the weekend, earning a hit in each contest.
None was bigger than the infield hit Blair recorded in the seventh inning of Friday’s game against North Carolina. After two sacrifice bunts pushed the go-ahead run to third, Blair beat out a chopper to shortstop, giving Michigan the lead.
“I was just trying to keep it simple,” Blair said of her approach. “I wasn’t trying to hit the ball so hard, so my swing isn’t how it normally is. Slow it down and just do my part, however I can.”
On the pitching side of things, sophomore Alex Storako and junior Meghan Beaubien continued to shoulder the load. In a 4-3 win against the Tar Heels, Storako relieved Beaubien and gave up only one hit across six innings, striking out 13. The next day, it was Beaubien’s turn to offer a dominant performance, going the distance with a three-hit, nine-strikeout shutout.
“They’re a great pitching tandem,” Hutchins said. “I’m pleased with that. … I think the fact that both of them appear to be quite selfless and are team oriented and are ready to do their part when they get the call is very impressive.”
Across the four game challenge, the entire team certainly seemed ready to do its part.