As fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien trotted out to the circle under tentious final inning Friday night lights, it wasn’t the first time she saw action that day — the circumstances, however, were dramatically different.
When the sun was out, Beaubien’s five-inning start in the weekend-opener for the No. 19 Michigan Softball team (8-5 overall) was business as usual. She held Northern Kentucky (7-7 overall) scoreless, only letting batters on base three times. The silencing pitching effort which fans have come to expect put the Wolverines in position to win when their bats finally struck. They did in the sixth with a three-run blast from senior catcher Hannah Carson, claiming a 3-0 victory and the all-time win record for coach Carol Hutchins.
But this time, in the nightcap, as No. 13 Duke (13-3 overall) threatened a walk-off win with two runners aboard, Beaubien had to dig Michigan out of a hole. Two strikeouts and a groundout later, she led her team to its first upset of the season.
“I think we definitely got gritty in our (first) game against Duke and fought really hard as a team there,” sophomore utility player Sierra Kersten said. “Every effort went into that.”
Beaubien is no stranger to earning wins, but those final outs against the Blue Devils completed only her eighth career save. Carson is a trusted veteran in the fielding game, but that game-winning homer against the Norse was only her fifth career long ball. The last of the runs that led to Beaubien’s save came from Kersten’s bat in the fourth — the first of two home runs on the weekend, and in her career.
Throughout Michigan’s 3-1 performance at Duke’s invitational this weekend, each of its accomplishments were elevated by a key moment from a less expected area.
“I kind of felt a little bit of a shock,” Kersten said of her home runs. “I feel like we’ve been grinding all preseason and it was great seeing the effort come out.”
In contrast, the Wolverines found defeat for the most typical of reasons.
As the Blue Devils fought with an avenging boost on Saturday, Michigan’s bats found their silence. A mere three hits, only one for extra bases, were just not enough to match the results of the previous night.
The typicality of the loss proved not only singular, but a dynamic precursor to the wrath unleashed at the plate that night. The Wolverines put up a season-high 16 hits in the Northern Kentucky rematch, with Carson’s second home run of the season joining Kersten’s second. Even fifth-year outfielder Kristina Burkhardt managed to make her ordinary production extraordinary, tying her career high in hits.
When stepping-stone successes are found through these breaches of comfort zones, there are two responses at hand. The top priority is a focus towards making those shorter moments into longer trends.
“Sometimes it’s been a little patchy at the beginning of this season and there are just some kinks in our swings,” Kersten said. “I think (we’re focusing on) being able to get hot as a team, and being able to string hits together and string innings together where we can put more pressure on defenses that are up against us.”
As for the second response, it’s hard not to give the trip its measure of celebration — not only for the season-best 3-1 record, but Hutchins’ bigger-picture milestone that is getting shoutouts all the way up the ranks of the softball world.
“She cares about us being softball players, but she also cares about us being great women that are going to impact the world when we walk away from this program,” Kersten said. “One of the things that I love that she said this weekend on people presenting her stuff and hating being recognized. She said ‘I just stand here and you guys are the ones who win the game.’ She just empowers us and we’d all run through a wall for her any day of the week.”
And after this weekend’s performance, Hutchins is surely just as happy about the successes of her players in those unfamiliar situations than her own accolade.