It might have taken sun-soaked trips to Florida and California to get there, but the No. 22 Michigan softball team is hitting, pitching and winning at a red-hot rate.
At the FAU Parents' Weekend Tournament, the Wolverines swept their five-game slate, beating Stony Brook, Florida Atlantic, Ball State, Pittsburgh and Florida A&M, to bring their win streak to 12 games.
From the outset against Stony Brook, Michigan looked like a team riding a seven-game win streak. Though the Wolverines had some trouble earlier in the season capitalizing with runners in scoring position, this was not the case Friday in a 7-0 win. Junior third baseman Alex Sobczak etched the ball along the first baseline with two outs in the second inning, allowing Michigan to score.
The Wolverines never looked back on Friday, riding the bats of second baseman Faith Canfield and right-hander/first baseman Tera Blanco. Blanco hit a sac fly against the Sea Wolves in the fifth inning and Canfield followed that with a three-run double an inning later.
Blanco followed up her play against Stony Brook with a home run on the first pitch of the sixth inning against Florida Atlantic, and Canfield followed her up at the end of the inning with a two-run mash of her own. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins noticed a more confident batting lineup throughout the tournament and in the 7-1 win.
“Honestly, I notice when we’re confident as a team, when we’re all together,” Hutchins said. “There’s only one player batting at a time but the entire dugout has to bat with every player every pitch. When the entire dugout is locked in every pitch, I see a lot more success offensively.”
That’s not to say, though, that the tournament was a complete walk in the park for the Michigan. If Friday was a sunny day at the beach, Saturday was more like a roller-coaster ride at Disney World or Busch Gardens with a pair of 3-2 wins.
Against Ball State, Michigan was instead anchored by freshman right-hander Meghan Beaubien. The ace tossed a career-high 16 strikeouts. Even though the Wolverines never trailed in the game, the Cardinals put some pressure on Michigan by launching a two-run home run in the sixth inning.
In the seventh inning the Wolverines loaded the bases, putting sophomore third baseman Madison Uden on the plate. Uden, who has been hitting a team-leading .396, drew a walk-off walk to give Michigan the victory.
“I was really just looking to drive the ball, hit a really good pitch,” Uden said. “Just looking to throw my backside hard and just focusing on what I know and trusting my mechanics.”
Beaubien followed her career outing with a similarly dominant performance against Pittsburgh. With the Wolverines leading 3-2 coming into the fifth inning, the ace took over and retired the Panthers’ last nine batters to close out the game. On a day where Michigan recorded twenty hits but only scored six runs, her arm was the difference, and remains a constant for the Wolverines in the circle.
“Well, it is important to win close games,” Hutchins said. “It’s great for our pitching to be tough and solid under perceived pressure, and definitely you wanna come up on the winning side of it because that gives you confidence that you can win those games and you don't want the kids just focused on winning but ultimately we all know that when the game gets tight is when the kids get tight.”
Just like it has over the course of the season, Michigan improved on its hitting inconsistencies on Sunday against Florida A&M, combining those improvements with the as-usual stellar pitching to notch a 6-2 win over the Rattlesnakes. Uden went 4-for-4 with two runs and Blanco notched a season high seven strikeouts.
Florida A&M might not be the most intimidating opponent, but the Wolverines’ performance against them, and the rest of the unranked teams in Boca Raton, bodes well for their upcoming conference slate. If they can do it thousands of miles away from home, they can bring some sunshine back to Ann Arbor, too.