Kenzie Nemitz knew it was gone the moment she made contact. Everybody did.
The crack of the bat echoed throughout Alumni Field, the first of many in the No. 22 Michigan softball team’s 16-1 run-rule victory over rival Michigan State (15-29 overall, 3-13 Big Ten).
The senior designated player kicked off her final homestand in style, to say the least. With the Wolverines (34-11, 16-1) already leading 1-0, Nemitz stepped up to the plate with two outs and a pair of runners on base. A week after being stumped by a pair of changeups in East Lansing, she expected the Spartans to attack her with the same strategy. This time, she took full advantage of a changeup in her wheelhouse.
Inside pitch, belt-high. Nemitz put a confident swing on it.
“I knew they were coming at me with a changeup again so I knew I was going to be ready for it,” Nemitz said. “I knew it was coming, so I was like, ‘I’m going to sit back on it and swing at this pitch. I’m going to hit this pitch.’ ”
She stood for a moment and admired her own masterpiece. When the ball landed in the top row of the right field bleachers, Nemitz was already halfway to first base. By the time she finished her home run trot, Michigan had a 4-0 lead.
Three innings later, Nemitz took advantage of a defensive shift. Nemitz has established a reputation as a left-handed pull hitter, but she made the Spartans pay by driving a ball the opposite way. When it landed in left field, she collected her fourth and fifth RBI of the evening.
It didn’t take long for the Wolverines to put the game’s first run on the board. In the at-bat before Nemitz’s long ball, junior third baseman Madison Uden made soft contact on a full count. Michigan State shortstop Caitie Ladd charged it, but overran the ball and fumbled it in transition between the pitching circle and second base.
For a moment, the ball rested in an awkward region of infield no man’s land. That moment was all Michigan coach Carol Hutchins needed.
When Hutchins saw the ball die on the dirt, she waved senior outfielder Natalie Peters around third base. As Ladd pivoted to recover the error, Peters took off and beat the throw home standing up.
Just one pitch after fouling a ball off her foot, senior catcher Katie Alexander slugged a deep fly ball to right-center field that barely crept over the railing. But when it did, her sixth home run in the last eight games — and team-high 10th of the season — gave the Wolverines a 5-0 lead.
Four batters later, freshman left fielder Lexie Blair picked up where she left off over the weekend. After receiving her third Big Ten Freshman of the Week award of the season on Monday, Blair dug in with runners on first and second. Down two strikes in the count, she laced an RBI single into centerfield — the first of her two hits on the night.
Despite being a freshman, Blair leads the team in batting average (.423), RBI (41) and multi-hit games (21).
Just one week after failing to record an out in last Tuesday’s win against Michigan State, sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien showed significant improvement against a near-identical lineup.
After surrendering a trio of singles to start last week’s game, Beaubien walked Michigan State’s cleanup hitter on four pitches. Rather than giving Beaubien a chance to find her footing, Hutchins turned to freshman right-hander Alex Storako. With that, the shortest outing of Beaubien’s career came to a close.
To call last week’s outing uncharacteristic for the 2018 All-American would be an understatement. This time around, she cracked the Spartans’ code.
Beaubien pitched a one-run gem, using the strikeout to put a personal exclamation point on each of the first four innings. She racked up seven total punchouts while walking only one batter before handing it off to Storako for the final frame.
“(Beaubien) trusted her stuff more and just went out there and bounced back from last week,” said senior second baseman Faith Canfield. “Last week I know she was a little bit tired and fatigued from the weekend before, but more than anything, her mindset is most important. I know she took that personally last week, so this week she was ready to come out and attack it.”
When the bottom of the fourth rolled around, the Wolverines broke the game open. Highlighted by Canfield’s grand slam to straight-away center field, Michigan’s offense used a nine-run outburst to extend its lead to 16-1 — the game’s eventual final score.
For Nemitz, Canfield and their senior teammates, there isn’t a better way to kick off their last homestand than a rivalry win.