It was a familiar feeling.
The No. 15 Michigan softball team was tied going into extra innings against Indiana on Sunday with mounting pressure to beat the team that threatened to surpass it in the Big Ten standings.
But sophomore third baseman Madison Uden wasn’t affected by the importance of the game. She didn’t care that a loss would push Michigan into the second-place slot behind the Hoosiers in the late stages of the season. She didn’t have any doubt at the plate. She only knew to do her part.
And she did.
Whereas the extra innings on Saturday resulted in a loss for the Wolverines, Sunday’s game saw a difference result — a 2-0 win in nine innings — largely due to Uden’s late game at-bat.
Uden saw the setup. Senior utility player Tera Blanco and junior outfielder Natalie Peters were in scoring position. All she had to do was follow the game plan.
When the start of the ninth inning rolled around, it was evident both teams had offensive struggles.
“We can’t make this the most important game of the year because that puts on pressure themselves,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We looked like, (Saturday) we felt a lot of pressure and honestly throughout a lot of the day (Sunday), our at-bats, we just looked like we were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves.”
Up until that point, both teams had gone scoreless, unable to find any rhythm at the plate. The Wolverines had stranded 11 base runners and were unable to capitalize on the intentional walks given throughout the game to Blanco.
The offensive struggles plagued Uden as well. Her first four at-bats exemplified Michigan’s early offense, with the sophomore striking out on her first two visits to the plate before hitting a pop-up to shortstop. Her first hit of the game came in the top of the seventh, where she connected for a single that loaded the bases. However, the Wolverines saw their then-best chance to open the scoring fall short, as a subsequent flyout rendered Uden’s hit meaningless.
“We had runners on base all weekend,” Hutchins said. “All day yesterday and all day today. I think we had a lot of cases of just everybody trying too hard and putting pressure on themselves. (Uden) had a lot of opportunities and had had some failures.”
But when it mattered the most, she used her failures as stepping stones to capitalize on the stage made by her teammates.
To start off the ninth, freshman shortstop Natalia Rodriguez hit a double to shallow-left center field. With a runner in scoring position, second baseman Faith Canfield stepped up to try and make a play. On the second pitch of her at-bat, the junior saw the pitch she liked and swung.
Despite the easy flyout in centerfield, her efforts propelled Rodriguez to third base. The freshman, noted for her speed, prepared herself for a sprint to home as Peters approached the plate.
However, the situation then soured for Michigan.
Peter’s contact with the ball turned into a routine play for the shortstop. Confusion then arose as Rodriguez was unsure as to whether the fielder would be able to properly field the darting ball. Frantically weighing her options, Rodriguez darted towards home plate.
Dashing fervently, the freshman was run down by the Indiana infielders while Peters reached third on a fielder’s choice. After the play, Michigan took a step back. It now saw a similar situation — a runner on third — but now with two outs. The threat of going an extra inning scoreless loomed large.
“It was a little hard for (Rodriguez) to score because she got a little stuck up in between the play, she wasn’t sure about shortstop,” Uden said. “Can the ball go through? What (the Hoosier shortstop) did with it, and she fielded it cleanly, so there was a little mix-up there.”
The focus then shifted to Blanco, who had been walked the majority of the game. Not changing the pattern, Blanco made her way to first after five pitches.
“They intentionally walked Tera,” Hutchins said. “And we stole second to put her in scoring position and take away any force at second.”
Added Uden: “I knew they were going to walk Tera, I mean they walked her the previous few times she was up to bat, and they were throwing the same sequence against me at my at-bat.”
Indiana threw outside pitches.
Those were the type of pitches Blanco had seen throughout the game. They were the type of pitches Uden saw through earlier innings. And they were the pitches she was seeing during her at-bat in the ninth — though this time, she was prepared.
The game plan had always been to get the ball to the ground, one way or another. The team had come into the game with that mindset, though they had expected rising and through balls from the pitcher.
After a 2-1 count, Uden did what she knew — follow the game plan and adjust to the pitches. She swung on the outside pitch and caught a lot of wood as she sent the ball to an open area in left centerfield. Opening the scoring, she recorded a two-RBI double that offered both energy and relief throughout the Michigan dugout.
“It was a big hit,” Hutchins said. “It was a clutch hit. We hadn’t been real clutch, you know. It’s hard to be clutch if you’re having any doubts or trying too hard. So, I was really proud of Maddie because she had some tough at-bats throughout the day, and she came through big time.”