Two times this season, the No. 2 Michigan softball team needed to rebound after a difficult loss.
In each such game, the Wolverines, (1-1 Big Ten, 23-3 overall) have come roaring back, defeating their opponents by a combined 15 runs the game following a loss.
The same proved to be true against Northwestern (1-1, 10-17) on Saturday. From their first at-bats on offense until the end of the run-rule victory, the Wolverines’ hitting attack thrived in their 11-3 victory over the Wildcats.
“We really had to simplify everything we did (at the plate),” said sophomore first baseman Tera Blanco. “Relax your mind, relax everything. Just get a good pitch and take a good hack. Don’t be too selective up there.”
As it did in the first game of the series, Michigan scored early and often. With the bases loaded, Blanco hit a long fly ball to left field that Wildcat leftfielder Anna Petersen lost in the sun. It fell in the outfield, though, scoring two Wolverines and landed Blanco on second base with a double. Michigan would score two more in the inning on a fielding error by Northwestern shortstop Andrea Filler.
In the next inning, Blanco once again stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. This time, there was no doubt where the ball would land. She hit a ball deep to centerfield for her first career grand slam. She also set her career best in runs batted in, finishing with six.
Blanco’s home run would only be the first long ball of the frame, though. With a runner on first base, junior third baseman Lindsey Montemarano hit a long shot over the left-field fence to give the Wolverines an 11-3 lead.
While the first game of the series saw the Wolverines lose their lead, the early runs Saturday gave them a lead they would never relinquish.
Junior right-hander Megan Betsa, who struggled mightily with control during her short appearance Friday, performed significantly better in Saturday’s game at Alumni Field. Though she had some challenges in the first two innings — she allowed two home runs — her control was slightly improved. Betsa consistently got Northwestern hitters to swing through her pitches, striking out 12 but also walking five.
“(Betsa is) defintely putting pressure on herself,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She needs to let go and just pitch.”
The Wildcats threatened early, scoring two in the first inning and another on a solo home run in the second. In the fourth, Betsa walked two batters and allowed a single to load the bases. As she did throughout the game, Betsa was able to get out of this jam with a key punchout.
Second baseman Sierra Romero continued her career-high hitting streak with a first-inning single. The senior has now hit safely in 18 straight games. Michigan did not make an error in this game, an area that it struggled with on Friday.
The Wolverines’ performance on Saturday was a far cry from their heartbreaking loss to Northwestern on Friday.
“We never want (a loss) to happen again,” Blanco said. “We know in the last inning of yesterday’s game, the good energy we had, we need to bring that to every single game and every single inning.”
Blanco exemplifies Hutchins’ comments on her team’s motivating itself to play better and better each game.
“Just play good softball,” Hutchins said. “(To) do your part to help the win. That’s all I ever want (my players) to do.”
And what a better way to do it than in a run rule rout.