BLOOMINGTON — When they’re on, they’re on.
No. 1 seed Michigan came out swinging against No. 5 seed Wisconsin in the semifinal game of the Big Ten Tournament.
Natalie Peters is hardly known as a power hitter, but that didn’t stop her from smacking a ball to the warning track in the Wolverines’ second at-bat of the game.
The senior outfielder’s hit drove senior second baseman Faith Canfield home from first, giving Michigan an early lead against the Badgers — a lead they held onto for the entire game. The top of their lineup continued to deliver with three out of the first four batters registering hits, giving the Wolverines a two-run lead by the end of the inning.
“Faith started the game off with a well-hit ball,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Natalie was just right on time on that, and it woke us up. It sparked us.”
While an early spark is definitely not out of the ordinary for Michigan, anyone who watched the Wolverines at the plate in their Friday quarterfinal game would find them unrecognizable. They got just seven hits against No. 9 seed Illinois, only one of which was translated into a run.
They needed to make a shift after the lack-luster performance.
“We need to see our pitches and string our hits together,” said freshman outfielder Lexie Blair after Friday’s game. “Put more balls in play. Get more out of the infield. Make them tough.”
And that’s what they did.
The bats stayed hot in the second inning. Michigan used everything in its arsenal — power from senior Mackenzie Nemitz, speed from Natalia Rodriguez, reliable base running from Canfield — to load the bases more than once. It doubled its lead to four by the time the inning was over.
Big fluctuation in offensive production from one game to the next isn’t new. They’ve been up and down all season, going from 12-1 blowouts one day to 2-1 nail-bitters the next. More than anything, the Wolverines benefit from momentum.
“As you have runs on the board, your hitters can be a little more loose and confident,” Hutchins said on Apr. 3. “Not feel that pressure and get tight, so you see some of that.”
They took advantage of that momentum, scoring in almost every inning. Big hits didn’t just come from the heart of the order, practically every member of the starting lineup had at least one hit.
The Wolverines may be benefitting from another offensive trend they’ve developed throughout the season: their offense typically improves as the weekend goes on.
In almost every conference series, Michigan has put up more runs and hits in their third game than in their first face-off.
This increased production came in handy for the Wolverines when a two-RBI double cut into their lead. But Michigan stayed locked in.
Back at the top of the lineup, Canfield — four for four on the day — hit another well placed double, driving Rodriguez home for another run.
With the final just hours away, it’s yet to be seen whether the Wolverines’ offense will make a reappearance.
What ultimately made the difference?
“If I knew, I’d apply it every day,” Hutchins said.