The Wolverines started the weekend on fire, mostly thanks to the spark given by senior left hander Meghan Beaubien and junior right hander Alex Storako.
They led the No. 23 Michigan softball team (9-3 Big Ten) to a 5-1 record on the weekend, going 2-1 and 3-0 against unranked Nebraska (6-6 Big Ten) and Wisconsin (4-8 Big Ten), respectively.
On Thursday, Beaubien willed the Wolverines to a 2-1 victory in its first game of the weekend over the Cornhuskers. In the eight inning bout, Beaubien pitched a no-hitter, allowing just four walks with the only run for Nebraska coming on a fielding error. It took the Wolverines’ bats until the extra inning to place the second run and win for their pitcher, though. Later on Thursday, en route to a 2-0 win over the Cornhuskers, Storako registered 19 strikeouts, tying a Michigan record held by Jennie Ritter that Beaubien had matched just two weekends ago.
Despite those wins, the strong start for the Wolverines hit a bit of a speed bump on Friday, when the Wolverines fell 5-4 to Nebraska in the third faceoff between the two teams of the weekend — another eight inning game.
The third game of the weekend marked an uncharacteristic loss for Michigan, usually a team that struggles at the plate rather than in the circle. But the bats worked on Friday, especially the one in the hands of junior outfielder Lexie Blair, who went 3-for-4 with three runs and a stolen base on the day. However, Blair’s heroics were not enough to pull the Wolverines over the hurdle of less-than stunning performances from Beaubien and Storako, who are typically the ones shouldering the team’s load.
The offensive performance wasn’t enough.
“It’s the way the game is going to go sometimes,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “You know pitchers are going to have great games, and they’re not going to have their A-game always.
“We can still win without their A-game, but we definitely need our offense to pick up the pitchers because the pitchers right now are picking up the hitters. And we need that to even out a little bit.”
Saturday morning, the Wolverines had an opportunity to bounce back — and they did.
Michigan trounced Wisconsin in an 8-0 mercy-rule victory in five innings and went on to take the next two games against the Badgers — 3-0 and 2-1, respectively — to complete the sweep and end at 5-1 on the weekend.
In the mercy-rule win, Blair continued her success from the day before, notching two runs and an RBIs on 2-for-3 hitting. Junior catcher Hannah Carson shined as well, going 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a run. Carson hit .333 on the weekend, a significant difference from her hitting in Michigan’s first weekend, where she sat at a .083 clip.
“Hannah is a good hitter,” Hutchins said. “ … I think she just settled in and started focusing on seeing the ball and was really present. She was much more present in her at-bats than she was last week.”
An emerging hitter from the weekend was also sophomore utility player Lauren Esman, who shined as a jack of all trades — a pinch hitter, first baseman, designated player, bench player and starter. After only one at-bat last weekend, Esman went 4-for-10 including a double and a triple, accumulating three RBIs and two runs.
Senior right hander Sarah Schaeffer created another positive sign for Michigan. Schaeffer started a game and gave the Wolverines three solid innings on the mound. Schaeffer even earned a start, something Hutchins has been hoping for since the beginning of the season. She allowed zero runs and just three hits while tallying one strikeout, one hit-by-pitch and no walks.
“She hasn’t pitched since 2019,” Hutchins said. “And I thought she came in and did a really nice job. And she did her part, and we didn’t need her to pitch a whole game, we needed a lot of good innings and she gave us (three) really good innings.”
Schaeffer’s emergence could be crucial because from now until the tournament, Michigan will be playing weekends consisting of four games against just one team. For that type of slate, the Wolverines will need more than just Beaubien and Storako’s arms.
Schaeffer, along with Carson’s rebound, Esman’s new appearances and Blair looking to be back in her freshman form, all put Michigan on the right track going forward.
“We’re definitely moving in a good direction,” Hutchins said.