Coming off a loss to Miami University in which its pitching was less than stellar, the No. 19 Michigan softball team looked to stop the bleeding.
But in the front end of their Big Ten opening doubleheader against Nebraska, the Wolverines fell short — in part due to an array of offensive and defensive miscues.
Michigan’s defensive woes began in the top of the fourth, after it already trailed 2-0.
The Cornhuskers opened the inning with two well-struck singles. At first, Michigan’s defense was up to the task. On the next at-bat, designated player Courtney Wallace hit a one-hop single to left, but the baserunner was held up from scoring by the threat of senior left fielder Lexi Blair’s arm. On the next play, a hit to right field that looked to almost certainly score a run was thwarted by graduate transfer right fielder Kristina Burkhardt, who rifled the ball home for the force out at home plate.
The bases were still loaded, but it felt like the Wolverines could get out of the inning without giving up any runs.
On the full count pitch, center fielder Caitlynn Neal hit a hard liner towards freshman shortstop Ella McVey. McVey made an athletic grab and tossed the ball towards senior third baseman Taylor Bump in what should have ended the inning. But Bump dropped it. The Cornhuskers were given another chance. And they capitalized on that chance as Squier watched her way to an RBI walk.
While a walk with bases loaded cannot be excused, senior right-hander Alex Storako would not have been in the situation in the first place if not for Bump’s gaffe at third.
“We need better standards,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Field routine balls, catch pop-ups, hit the ball out of the infield, those need to be standards.”
Michigan now found itself in a 3-0 hole. And with the bats not making solid contact, it had to rely on small ball. Freshman utility player Annabelle Widra opened up the fifth with a walk, and advanced to second on a groundout. Bump lined out for the second out of the inning.
In came graduate transfer utility player Melina Livingston.
Pinch hitting for McVey, Livingston hit a single to the outfield, scoring Widra from second as she beat the throw home. Livingston tried to take advantage of the throw home by advancing second, but was thrown out easily.
This mistake on the base paths cost the Wolverines extra at-bats in an inning when they had momentum and were cutting into the Nebraska lead.
“You want to beat Nebraska, you’ve got to come out playing,” Hutchins said. “You’ve got to play.”
Michigan certainly had chances to win the game, and were able to draw within one heading into the seventh inning. But it wasn’t enough.
Against quality in-conference opponents, these kinds of mistakes will consistently cost the Wolverines games. If Michigan hopes to realize its preseason goals, or even perform well in Big Ten play, then these mistakes need to be cut out — and fast.