The last time the No. 23 Michigan softball team lost three home games in a row, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins had never coached in an NCAA tournament.
Thirty years and 26 postseason appearances later, the Wolverines found themselves coming off a three-game home skid once again. And with a road trip to face No. 9 Northwestern looming, Michigan needed to right the ship, fast.
On Tuesday, the Wolverines (19-9 overall) did just that, defeating Bowling Green (14-9), 3-0. Senior right-hander Alex Storako led the team with a bounce-back game of her own, tallying 17 strikeouts in a one-hit shutout following the past week’s rough three–game stretch.
“Focusing on the mental game is a lot of what goes into our day to day process, and last week I got away from it,” Storako said. “Today I just went out there with a kickass attitude and a ‘who cares about the expectations’ kind of deal.”
From the get-go, Storako dominated. After the first batter was retired by making contact while out of the batter’s box, Storako was untouchable. She punched out the next eight batters, striking out the side in both the second and third innings.
As Storako pounded the strike zone, Michigan’s offense struck first. With two outs in the second inning, freshman outfielder Ellie Sieler drove a ball into deep center field for a solo home run — the first of her college career. An inning later, graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt slapped a ball down the right field line for a standup triple and scored on the right fielder’s errant throw to third base.
Struggling to make anything happen against Storako, the Falcons attempted to turn to small ball in the fourth inning. Outfielder Greta L’Esperance reached base with a leadoff bunt single, and then stole second base. But the next batter popped out on an attempted bunt, Storako fanned two more and nothing came of the leadoff hit.
“I don’t change what I think about, whether they’re hitting or bunting,” Storako said. “Being able to go out there and think, ‘I have to make these hitters beat me,’ is the best kind of approach that a pitcher can have.”
While hitters failed to beat Storako, the Wolverines mounted a threat of their own in the bottom half of the fourth. Junior first baseman Lauren Esman opened the inning with a line-drive single to center field and advanced to third on Sieler’s second hit of the day, a single to the right-center gap. Freshman shortstop Ella McVey then loaded the bases via the free pass, flipping the lineup card over. The top of Michigan’s order couldn’t capitalize, though, striking out twice and stranding three.
But it wouldn’t matter.
The Wolverines picked up one more run in the fifth inning, as Esman brought Burkhardt home on her second single of the day. And though the bats stayed mostly quiet towards the end of the game, they had already provided enough run support to Storako.
Storako cruised through the last three innings, punching out seven of the last eight batters she faced and preventing Bowling Green from notching another hit. In the sixth inning, she came close to an immaculate inning, striking out the side on just 10 pitches before retiring the Falcons in order one final time to close out the game.
“(Storako) was a good leader today,” Hutchins said. “There was a group of kids that were not certain during our pregame warmup. … She got the team up, pulled them into a huddle and she goes, ‘You guys, we’re winning today, act like it.’ ”
And led by Storako returning to form after a difficult week, Michigan did too.