Twice the Michigan softball team (40-8) has faced Notre Dame (32-21) this season.
One game ended in a victory in which the Wolverines used suffocating defense and clutch hitting for a 6-0 win.
The other ended in a conflicting 4-3 loss, where the Michigan mound saw turbulence in the absence of freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien.
The question coming into the tiebreaker matchup is which Wolverine team will show up. Will it be the one whose confidence was at a high with an unstoppable force on the mound and unified batting down the lineup? Or will it be the one that couldn’t seem to find any momentum, desperately switching pitchers to find a rhythm and relying on miracle plays to keep them in offensively?
Michigan — who has faced Notre Dame 26 times for a 20-6 all-time-series advantage — looks to fix its recent concerns and move on to the next round of the NCAA Regionals. It is just 4-4 in games following a loss, though they have an 11-1 advantage in NCAA Regional matchups against the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame is heavily reliant on its offense to make up for its lackadaisical defense. Though they sport the No. 2 recruit in the FloSoftball 2017 Second 100 rankings with pitcher Alexis Holloway, the Fighting Irish pitching has a 2.70 ERA while averaging 5.67 runs in their losses. If there was an area Michigan has struggled in as of late, though, it’s scoring — a potential omen for the upcoming match. In the last two matches, the Wolverines have managed to muster only a single run and were outscored 17-1 through two games. If either team breaks through, it’ll be the one who can overcome its shortcomings.
Pitcher to watch for Michigan: Meghan Beaubien
Manning the mound for Michigan in its win against the Fighting Irish, Meghan Beaubien looks to repeat the feat. However, in her most recent game, the lefty has looked nothing like the Big Ten Freshman and Pitcher of the Year she was named. Instead, she allowed Michigan State to score seven unanswered runs in her team’s Big Ten Tournament loss.
The Wolverines will look to Beaubien to regain her confidence and return to her normal level of play — the sort of play that leads the nation in wins and is 12th in the nation for earned-runs averaged at 1.09.
In the matchup’s win, the freshman threw five innings, allowing only two hits, two walks and no runs. In the loss, she only pitched a third of the last inning as she was subbed in with the hopes that she’d kill off the Notre Dame scoring threat and keep the one-run gap the same — which she did.
Player to watch for Michigan: Katie Alexander
Junior catcher Katie Alexander saw a brief stretch of high-level of production offensively and has seen few errors in her role as catcher for the team. She bats a .316 average that helped give her second-team All Big Ten honors. Her .995 fielding percentage puts in full display her defensive prowess, holding opponents to three-for-nine on stolen bases attempts.
In the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup, she elevated her play when little of the team could. In the loss, she kept the Wolverines in the game by hitting a three-run homer, closing the gap when nothing was going right for the team. She smacked an RBI double in the win, creating an opening statement for Michigan that it never let up.
Pitcher to watch for Notre Dame: Alexis Holloway
Freshman pitcher Alexis Holloway effectively proved she is the best pitcher the team has to offer. Rated the number one pitching recruit in 2017, the right-hander won the role of ace over her fellow teammates. She threw a team-leading 2.34 ERA for a 20-13 record and earned second-team All ACC and All-Freshman honors. She’s started in the majority of games for the Fighting Irish and has pitched twice as many innings as the next pitcher in line. While she makes a lot of mistakes — walking 120 batters — she counters with 170 strikeouts.
Against Michigan, she initially looked in every way like a freshman is supposed to — doubtful and inconsistent. In the loss, she relented five runs on four hits through three and two thirds of an inning before seeing herself get pulled. Though she had a poor performance, she lead the game in strikeouts with five. Bouncing back the next game, however, she saw herself in the reverse situation, being put in as closer. Thriving in the clutch role, she threw two and a third scoreless innings to keep the one-run lead in tact and win the game for Notre Dame.
Player to watch for Notre Dame: Abby Sweet
Outfielder Abby Sweet has certainly played above expectations. The freshman — who came in ranked 106th in the FloSoftball 2017 Second 100 rankings — has a .333 batting average, which is the second highest on the team. She’s appeared at more at-bats all season than any other player on roster at 159 and has made the most of her opportunities which includes starting and playing in all 53 games.
While not a flashy batter — she has only three home runs — her consistent play earned her the honors of second-team All-ACC and All-Freshman team. Though she lacks the power numbers, she leads the Fighting Irish in extra base hits with 12 doubles and two triples.
Against Michigan, her consistent style of play showed. While unable to convert, she managed to get a hit in the shutout loss to the Wolverines, just one of three total hits Notre Dame managed to get in. However, bouncing back in the next match up, she recorded a hit and a run to help extend the lead in the eventual win. In addition, she succeeded in stealing a base, a rare feat against the tight Michigan defense.