Two straight losses at Alumni Field is a rarity for the Wolverines. It hasn’t happened in the regular season since 2001 and at all since the 2019 NCAA Regionals.
In the second game of its conference slate-opening doubleheader Friday, the No. 19 Michigan softball team (18-9 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) was eager to put that history-making stain behind them against Nebraska (21-9, 2-0).
Instead, the Wolverines let that stain fester, dropping their third straight at home, 7-4, for the first time in 30 years.
After a first game of fielding and pitching miscues, the second game began with reversing results. The Cornhuskers’ inning ended with a strikeout and two flyouts, the second of which was a caught line drive by grad-transfer right fielder Kristina Burkhardt.
Michigan, meanwhile, benefitted from a dropped throw at first and a walk to get its first runners on. Then, it unleashed hitting momentum that had remained absent for the past two games, jumping to a 4-0 lead after the first.
But scoring would soon permanently revert to the mean established earlier in the day.
“You see (drops in performance) every year,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I am most concerned not because we lose, but where our kids are and where their confidence is … right now, their confidence is very low.”
Nebraska lined singles off of fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien’s first two pitches in the second inning. A deep out at center advanced the runners, and another single loaded the bases.
The bat’s next strike — via utility player Caitlynn Neal — claimed the second out at second base, but could not keep them off the board. A stolen second base left the risk of more runs looming, but Beaubien caught a batter looking with her signature offspeed for the first time of the day.
Michigan’s bats went cold in the bottom of the second. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s bats proved to just be heating up, as infielders Billie Andrews and Cam Ybarra slammed home three runs in the form of right field bombs.
Freshman right-hander Lauren Derkowski took Beaubien’s place and immediately set a different tone. She struck out two and lined out one to hold a 4-3 lead for the Wolverines, and after walking outfielder Peyton Glatter, she would deny three straight batters again in the top of the fourth.
That tone would remain short-lived. With two-straight walks from Derkowski in the fifth, senior right-hander Alex Storako was sent out to pitch for the second time in the doubleheader, a pitching change that would go on to have quite the opposite effect as the previous one.
It took just two pitches from Storako for infielder Sydney Gray to find the Cornhuskers’ sweet spot beyond the right field wall again. The Wolverines would find their way out of the inning, but not without dropping to a 6-4 deficit and having to field more ominous fly balls.
“Give Nebraska credit because they came here and played,” Hutchins said. “They were down by four in the first inning and battled back and swung the bats … Give them credit because they were the better team today.”
Nebraska’s bats kept up the contact in the sixth, and even when their deeper strikes did not land like they did previously, a fielding error from Esman extended their lead to three.
In the fourth pitching change for the Wolverines, Beaubien returned to the game’s final inning. Reset, she silenced three straight batters and gave her team one last shot to make up the three runs.
But Michigan’s bats, as it had since the first inning, had no response, resulting in the second loss of the day.
“I think our kids are just caught up in something that they need to get out of their head,” Hutchins said. “So they will. I told them ‘you will get through this.’”
Perhaps eventually, but not on Friday.