Any good team needs players to step up when others aren’t at their best.
The No. 22 Michigan softball team (33-11 overall, 15-1 Big Ten) proved its mettle this weekend, coming out ahead in all three contests against Illinois (27-17, 6-9) this weekend despite uncharacteristically poor pitching.
The bats started slow in the series. Friday’s game was low-scoring on both sides, ending with a final score of 2-1. The first of these runs came in the first inning when senior first baseman Alex Sobczak fired a ball deep into center field, driving in freshman outfielder Lexie Blair from first.
Both Sobczak and Blair continued to be assets offensively as the weekend continued. They combined for nine hits over the course of the weekend and had back-to-back homers in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game.
The energy picked up on Saturday, when the Wolverines edged out the Illini, 9-8. Two runs in the first inning got the ball rolling for Michigan, but it lost the momentum, failing to score another run until the fifth. By then, the Wolverines faced a four-run deficit. But they didn’t let it faze them.
In the fifth inning, a single by Blair allowed sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez to score, and from there, the runs kept coming. In the sixth inning, junior third baseman Madison Uden blasted a ball over the center field wall, further chipping away at Illinois’ lead. In the seventh inning, a double hit down the third base line by Canfield sent two runners home, putting Michigan one run ahead by the game’s close.
“I think we’re just getting better and we’re just fighting,” said senior second baseman Faith Canfield. “They’re going to throw a punch, we’ve got to throw a punch back. This weekend, we trusted our ability to do that.”
“Saturday, we saw that (Illinois pitcher) again and we made some adjustments,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “It made a difference. You have to do what it takes to win.”
By Sunday, the Wolverines’ offense virtually functioned as a carousel, sending runners around the bases one after the next in a game that ended in a 16-5 victory. Michigan took a commanding lead in the first inning with five runs, which included two of the day’s six home runs — by senior designated player Mackenzie Nemitz and junior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad. The Wolverines didn’t let up, amassing a total of 17 hits by the end of the contest.
“Our offense throughout the weekend improved just within the three games,” Blair said. “That’s just from staying within ourselves, knowing we can pick each other up if someone can’t get the job done.”
While the Wolverines’ hitting improved as the weekend wore on, the same couldn’t be said of their pitching.
Friday, sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien gave up just three hits in seven innings, one of which translated into a run. Saturday’s game was a different story. She entered in relief in the sixth inning and gave up two runs before pitching a scoreless seventh.
The pitching staff as a whole struggled in the second game. Hutchins pulled freshman right-hander Alex Storako after she gave up three runs and loaded the bases in the bottom of the third inning. This has become standard practice for Storako, who has rarely gotten beyond the third or fourth inning without being substituted out.
Unlike past games, Storako was switched back in less than an inning later after sophomore right-hander Schaefer gave up three more runs and loaded the bases in the fourth. This wouldn’t be Michigan’s last pitching change. Hutchins opted to swap Storako out again — this time for Beaubien. Despite her struggles in the sixth, Beaubien held off the Illini in the seventh, preserving the Wolverines’ narrow lead.
The pitchers’ struggles followed them into Sunday’s game, in which Beaubien started in the circle. She gave up five runs before Storako came in for relief in the last inning.
Luckily for the Wolverines, the offense’s production kept Michigan afloat.
“Our offense had our pitchers’ backs,” Hutchins said. “Some days the hitters have to pick up the pitchers and some days the pitchers have to pick up the hitters.”