Consistently dominant pitching takes a lot of problems off the table. So when that factor is absent, those insecurities come roaring back.
Such was the case for the No. 21 Michigan softball team Wednesday, as Alex Storako — the previously unbeaten ace — gave up four runs in two innings, foreshadowing a dismal showing for the Wolverines’ pitchers.
With a deep double and a shallow single, the senior right-hander quickly found herself in a 1-0 deficit.
“The first curveball they hit, she said it was over the middle of the plate,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “So let it go. I can’t describe what happened. She didn’t have her stuff. She didn’t have her attitude or her edge.”
An early mistake may not be much to harp on in the moment, but Storako’s continued unraveling made those first hits ominous in retrospect. She continued to spiral, opening the second with four straight balls, followed by a wild pitch.
The crack of the Redhawks’ bats returned with force in the second inning as Storako’s rhythm slipped further away. Miami infielder Adriana Barlow hit a hard single down the left field line to bring a runner home, and a home run to right field by infielder Holly Blaska scored two more.
“I don’t think she took them lightly because she knows they’re a good team,” Hutchins said. “So I can’t answer what goes on in a kid’s head.”
Exit Storako, enter freshman right-hander Lauren Derkowski.
Despite compounding struggles from their longtime strength, the score itself was not out of reach for the Wolverines. And if the recently-growing prowess at the plate continued, they could reset.
But as scoring plays remained out of reach, Michigan’s hitting, its usual weak point, was unable to make up for the issues in the circle.
Miami’s well-placed contact, meanwhile, did not relent. Five hits in three innings — not to mention three errors and a walk — brought Derkowski’s outing to an end too.
“They’re experienced hitters, but they’re very balanced, and it’s where we’re trying to get to,” Hutchins said. “When we threw balls over the plate, that’s when they hit them. We have balls over the plate, and we’re not hitting them that way.”
Just one sleep after her one-run gem against Western Michigan, fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien found herself back in the circle. But the discomfort of loaded bases got in her head, and she paid the price. One run away from a run-ruling margin and dominating Michigan 7-1, the Redhawks’ bases remained loaded.
Groundouts rescued Beaubien, and her sixth inning was the first one that saw pitching on par with the Wolverines’ standards. But the damage was already done, and no more chances would occur on the other side of the two-hour rain delay to make it look any better.
“She did settle in – but when you come in at that point, we got to be settled,” Hutchins said. “She’s a fifth year. We don’t have an inning to warm up, because it matters.”
It is one thing when a team’s thinner qualities result in a defeat, but when those who are established in their roles whiff on a day, it’s concerning.
For Michigan’s headlining duo of aces, that was today.
“Three of the four infielders are brand new,” Hutchins said. “That’s not an excuse, but I need the upperclassmen to give us hope … they need to lead the team.”