Coming into a weekend series against Penn State, senior right-hander Alex Storako looked to be gaining her confidence back behind a good start Wednesday against Michigan State.
And she continued to return to her early-season form on Friday as she notched another strikeout-filled complete game.
Her counterpart, left-hander Bailey Parshall, was ultimately unable to keep up, as the Wolverines’ upperclassmen helped the offense break through.
The No. 23 Michigan softball team (22-11 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) run-ruled Penn State (22-14, 4-3) 8-0 behind a stellar pitching performance from Storako. Storako held the Nittany Lions down long enough for the Wolverines’ offense to wake up, as a scoring explosion from their upperclassmen began late in the fourth.
After both pitchers worked their way to clean first innings, the Nittany Lions were the first to earn a hit, behind a blooper into left from first baseman Lexie Black. Although the situation looked tenuous, Storako was able to strike out the side, escaping the situation.
The early pitching duel continued into the third; at that point, Michigan’s only baserunner of the game, graduate transfer outfielder Kristina Burkhardt, reached base on a walk in the first.
“The tone was set in the circle with (Storako) pitching well,” associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “But on top of that, we battled in (our) at-bats.”
In the fourth, battling at the plate began to obtain results as Burkhardt reached base again for the Wolverines, this time for the team’s first hit of the game — a looping fly ball into short left field.
This hit galvanized the previously silent Michigan bats.
Freshman outfielder Ellie Sieler managed a full-count walk to put two on with no outs. On the next at-bat, senior catcher Hannah Carson hit a hard flyball to the warning track, looking to score both Sieler and Burkhardt, but a great catch from center fielder Lilia Crouthanel thwarted those hopes.
With two outs, senior third baseman Taylor Bump took to the plate with another chance to notch a clutch RBI and continue her recent surge. She did not disappoint, as she launched a towering home run into left to score three, opening up the game for the Wolverines.
“Obviously it always feels good to hit a ball, (an) absolute moon shot out of the park,” said Bump. “But I have so much respect for my teammates …(they) are the ones that kept me going and never stopped believing in me.”
Following the explosion of runs, left-hander Lydia Spaulding was then called to replace Penn State’s Parshall in the fifth.
Spaulding struggled early, as junior outfielder Audrey LeClair hit a blooper to right field, and then two hit batters loaded the bases. Burkhardt landed yet another hit, this time into shallow right, scoring one and keeping the bases loaded. Sieler hit a deep fly, allowing Kersten to tag up cleanly. Spaulding was able to retire Carson, but senior second baseman Melina Livingston was a different story.
In her first game against her former team, a team she had spent three seasons with, Livingston came up clutch. She launched another long ball, her second home run in as many games, forcing a run rule victory.
Again, the upperclassmen were able to make the difference with their bats, and in short order, put the game away.
“I think recognizing how valuable their leadership and their grit as juniors and seniors has been key,” Tholl said.
If the Wolverines want to continue their recent run, it may very well come down to how far their upperclassmen can take them.