Michigan walked off a tightly-contested battle with Kent State. Julianne Yoon/Daily. Buy this photo.

Ella McVey stepped into the box. As the pitch came in, the freshman shortstop took a running start and slapped a hard ground ball to the right side of the infield. The ball whizzed past the second baseman as junior utility player Audrey LeClair rounded third base, speeding towards the plate to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning. 

McVey’s late-game heroics saved the No. 19 Michigan softball team (15-6 overall) in the back end of Thursday’s doubleheader against Kent State (6-9), as it escaped an upset with a 4-3 victory. The Wolverines rode a no-hitter from fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien into the seventh inning, but defensive inconsistencies nearly cost them the game. 

“(McVey) just goes up there and she’s aggressive,” senior outfielder Lexie Blair said. “There’s no doubt that she’s gonna get the job done. I can always count on her for her speed. … Any ball that she puts in play, she’s gonna get the job done.”

While Michigan required some late drama to win the game, things started smoothly. Across the first three innings, Beaubien struck out five batters, allowing just two baserunners to reach — both via the free pass. 

At the plate, Blair opened up the hitting for Michigan for the second game in a row, with a leadoff line-drive single in the first inning. She then stole second and capitalized on an errant throw by Golden Flash shortstop Alexandria Whitmore two plays later, crossing the plate to put the Wolverines up, 1-0. 

From there, the game began to evolve into a pitcher’s duel. Michigan looked to threaten for a moment in the third inning, but its momentum was halted when LeClair was caught stealing. 

On the other side, Beaubien faced a jam in the fourth inning following an error by sophomore second baseman Kaylee Rodriguez. With runners on second and third, Beaubien struck out the last batter she faced, escaping the danger and holding onto the Wolverines’ narrow lead.

“Meghan’s started to get back into the flow,” Michigan associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “But anytime you give a team additional opportunities offensively, it’s tough for a pitcher to overcome at times.”

Eventually, the Wolverines’ offense struck again when junior first baseman Lauren Esman was called upon to pinch hit for McVey. With a runner on second and two outs in the fifth inning, she liked the second pitch she saw and blasted it into deep center field for her third home run of the year, putting Michigan up, 3-0.

But the Wolverines’ defensive miscues soon became too great for Beaubien to overcome. 

Against Kent State’s first batter of the sixth inning, Rodriguez muffed the throw to first on a routine ground ball. Just two at-bats later, she attempted to get a force out at second base and threw the ball into the outfield for her third error of the game, allowing a run to score. By the end of the inning, Beaubien’s no-hitter was still intact, but the Golden Flashes had cut the lead down to 3-2. 

“We had three errors, and they scored runs on our errors,” Tholl said. “(Beaubien) did what she was supposed to do on the mound for us tonight, and we just need to shore up our defense for her.”

But then, Beaubien made one crucial mistake of her own: she left a ball over the plate against the first batter she faced in the seventh inning, and Kent State third baseman Alex Fiske took advantage. Fiske drove the ball to right-center field for a solo home run, knotting the game at three, ending Beaubien’s no-hit bid and knocking her out of the game.

Following the late-game defensive struggles, the offense bailed out the Wolverines. LeClair led off the seventh inning, reached on an error, and made up for her earlier misstep with a successful steal of second base. Then, McVey slapped the single up the middle, allowing LeClair to cross the plate and the Wolverines to escape with the win.

But when a starting pitcher carries a no-hitter into the seventh and gives up one earned run, it shouldn’t take a walk-off to earn a victory.

And if the defense behind the circle plays as poor as it did today, it’ll be hard for Michigan to escape going forward.