Top of the seventh, last chance for Georgia State. Sophomore right-hander Alex Storako trotted out and took her place inside the circle. With 13 strikeouts under her belt, she was just two away from tying her single-game record of 15 set last season against Michigan State.
Skylar Mosel stepped up to the plate for Georgia State. Four pitches later, she was heading back to the bench after swinging for the third strike — 14 strikeouts.
Sofia Tunon took her turn against Storako. And once again, Storako got another Panther to swing and miss for a third strike — 15.
Two outs. Gracie Kittrell was Georgia State’s last chance. Seven pitches in and Storako and Kittrell were locked in a full count. Storako sent the ball over the plate. Kittrell swung, but like those ahead of her, she found nothing but air — 16, a new career-best.
That was how Storako started her season. With emphasis.
“I just had all my pitches,” Storako said.
She stamped Michigan softball’s season opener, a 6-1 win over Georgia State, with a performance that made a statement about her year to come. She went on to contribute in three of the other four wins, helping the Wolverines improve to 5-0 on the season.
There was no debate over whether Storako was going to be a starter after coming off a successful freshman campaign that ended in a 14-6 record and a 2.02 ERA. She and junior left-hander Meghan Beaubien were locks in the pitching rotation entering the season.
But Storako’s performance in the Wolverines opening weekend at the USF-Rawlings Invitational warrants a new question: Does Michigan have a clear No. 1?
The short answer: no.
When asked, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins praised both pitchers, not naming one ace, but rather treating the two as a pair.
Beaubien was the first pitcher in last year’s rotation. After all, Storako was only a freshman and Beaubien was coming off a campaign that saw her win Big Ten Freshman and Pitcher of the Year.
And over the weekend’s games, Beaubien in no way played poorly. She finished with an ERA of 1.75 and a 1.13 WHIP.
But Storako excelled. This was her weekend, and Storako showed just how good she can be.
“Well, I thought our team had a great weekend and Alex certainly was a big part of that,” Hutchins said. “Last year, at this time, she couldn’t get through entire games, and now she’s doing a heavy load for us. I’m very pleased with that.”
Storako pitched in four of five games over the three-day slate, only sitting against South Florida. This included her record-setting start against Georgia State, a relief performance against Illinois State, a zero earned-run outing against Fresno State and a complete game against the Wolverines’ best opponent of the weekend — No. 7 Florida — where she held the Gators to just two runs on six hits.
“I think it speaks for itself,” Hutchins said. “Now she’s carrying the bulk of the load and she’s someone that we count on to be consistent and to be competitive.”
Storako came out of the weekend boasting a 1.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, while averaging 1.81 strikeouts per inning and 12.67 per game.
“I felt really good,” Storako said. “I was able to throw one pitch at a time.”
It’s a small sample size — just three starts and four games — but the numbers don’t tell a lie. Storako dominated.
Her pitching took over each game, paralyzing opposing offenses. Out of the 23 players she let on base over four games, 20 were stranded.
Storako came out this weekend and pitched like an ace. Like a true number one Hutchins trusted with the first game, last game and hardest game of the weekend.
At the same invitational last season, Hutchins noted Storako surpassed then-sophomore Sarah Schaefer as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
This year, Storako made her case again — this time for a share of No. 1.
Stoll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @nkstoll.