EAST LANSING — For most young players, the first postseason game of their career dredges up a storm of pregame nerves.
With the past two Big Ten Tournaments canceled, the No. 23 Michigan softball team’s lack of postseason experience from its freshmen through its juniors could have amplified those jitters.
But the upperclassmen stepped up.
In all aspects of the game, the Wolverines’ veteran leaders excelled, capitalizing on the postseason experience they had to guide Michigan to its 7-0 quarterfinal rout of Maryland.
“I know a couple of our younger kids had some jitters,” senior right-hander Alex Storako said. “It’s a huge step for them obviously, but I think one through 20 we took it like champs.”
Like so many times before, the efforts of the Wolverines’ veteran leaders began with Storako’s excellent performance in the circle.
Storako tossed five scoreless innings, limiting the Terrapins to three hits and fanning six. In the first inning, she allowed two Maryland baserunners to get into scoring position with one out. But she remained calm and recovered quickly, escaping the inning unscathed.
And although the two early hits gave impressions of a shaky start, Storako lacked any postseason jitters.
“I honestly felt great,” Storako said. “We really talked about keeping that one-pitch focus. And I think the most important part of being in the postseason is just focusing on the here and now and not getting too far ahead of yourself.”
While Storako dominated in the circle, veteran bats provided offense throughout the lineup to back her up.
Graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt sparked multiple rallies on the day, going one-for-two with a leadoff triple and two runs. Senior catcher Hannah Carson put the ball in play in the first inning to give Michigan its early lead, and followed it up by starting a new rally with a single in the fifth inning that facilitated four runs. And fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump capped off the offensive onslaught with a two-run blast to left-center field.
“Just managing the pressure is something that a lot of the younger kids will look up to us to do,” Bump said. “We’re just making sure that we’re feeding that good energy, and staying calm.”
In addition to her towering shot at the plate, Bump also set the example for the underclassmen in the field.
In the top of the sixth inning, freshman right-hander Annabelle Widra relieved Storako. On just the second pitch of Widra’s outing, Terrapin center fielder Jaeda McFarland ripped a ball down the left field line for what looked like a leadoff single. But Bump prevented the ball from getting through, diving to her left and snagging it with the tip of her glove. Bump jumped up and let out an emphatic cry, helping Widra escape her nerves and settle in.
“I am a big believer that defense and defensive energy wins games,” Bump said. “So I always pride myself on my defense.”
At every turn, the upperclassmen utilized their postseason experience to guide the Wolverines to victory. Whether it was at the plate, in the field or in the circle, the veterans shined, giving the first-time postseason participants a chance to settle in.
“It does help,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “That experience is a good thing.”
As the Wolverines pursue a Big Ten Tournament championship, the veterans’ ability to step up and give underclassmen needed time to adjust to the postseason atmosphere will likely continue to prove invaluable.