The Wolverines may have had to wait six days longer than they wished, but they were ready out of the gate Tuesday.
The Michigan softball team (18-7-1) proved themselves unfazed by two weather postponements last week that pushed back a matchup with Bowling Green (14-17) originally scheduled for March 15. The Wolverines jumped on the Falcons’ right-hander Brooke Parker early and never looked back, outlasting Bowling Green, 7-1.
A Falcon error in the first inning allowed junior right-hander Tera Blanco to reach first base to load the bases. The gaffe immediately proved costly for the Falcons, as a hit-by-pitch and a sharp RBI single from senior third baseman Lindsay Montemerano brought in the first two runs of the game. Junior infielder Amanda Vargas followed that up with a two-run single to break the game open and give Michigan an early four-run lead.
Michigan would grab two more runs on another Vargas single in the bottom of the third inning to extend the lead to 6-0 and chase Parker from the game.
“The goal is to outscore the other team,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “It’s always nice to jump ahead — it puts the other team on their heels — but right now I’ll take runs any way we can get them.”
For a team that has struggled with runners in scoring position this season, Vargas’ calm approach in those situations was a welcome sign. The key for her, she says, is maintaining the same mental approach.
“Pretty much the mindset is, ‘You need to just be calm, relaxed, and do everything you we do in practice’ … taking our normal cuts and not overthinking it,” Vargas said. “We just need to calm down.”
With the six-run cushion, Blanco took care of the rest in the circle.
Against a patient, but overmatched lineup, Blanco allowed one run on five hits in her complete-game outing.
Blanco was also able to keep the ball in the zone against a Bowling Green lineup that has walked over 80 times this season, surrendering only one walk on the day while also adding eight strikeouts.
Continuing to show improvement in that category, Blanco allowed just two free-passes in her last 21 innings, in sharp contrast to the 25 walks she allowed in her first 52.2 innings of the year.
She was tested, though, in the top of the fifth inning, when Bowling Green managed an RBI single to put runners on first and second with only one out. But Blanco snuffed out the potential rally, striking out outfielder Kendyl Wheeler and fielding a grounder cleanly to get the runner at first to end the threat.
“I think she’s just getting more comfortable in her role as our other pitcher,” Hutchins said. “Like, she’s pitching every other game, I think she’s gotten comfortable in that role for us. She’s owning it, she knows we count on her, I think she’s accepting it and embracing it.”
Sophomore catcher Katie Alexander immediately grabbed the run back, putting an exclamation point on the win with a no-doubt, solo home run to left-center field to extend the lead back to six. The home run was her first of the season, another positive sign for Alexander, who seems to be heating up in the batter’s box and seizing the regular starting job behind the plate.
And as the team moves forward, it may be contributions from the likes of Alexander, Vargas and others that give Michigan the necessary boost to move past its prolongued slump.
With the pitching rotation starting to stabilize — and if that slump is indeed over — more offensive consistency could be the final piece to the puzzle as the team heads towards conference play.