Throughout the course of a softball game, there are small plays that can change the outcome of the final score. Elite teams find ways to capitalize on these opportunities.
On Friday, Purdue second baseman Stephanie Ramsey fielded a groundball in the fifth inning from junior centerfielder Natalie Peters, looking to turn a double play. On an errant throw, the ball deflected off Boilermaker shortstop Halle Hixenbaugh’s glove and trickled away toward left field. Freshman shortstop Natalia Rodriguez popped her head up to track the ball, saw that it was rolling toward the outfield and sprinted to third base.
This allowed Peters, who had reached base on the previous play, to steal second –– putting two runners into scoring position for senior utility player Tera Blanco. Blanco took the opportunity to drive in both runners, increasing Michigan’s lead to 4-0.
It was just one instance of heads-up base running that allowed the Wolverines to capitalize on opponents’ errors and create scoring opportunities.
Over the weekend, Purdue committed four fielding errors and threw several wild pitches, contributing in part to 21 total Michigan runs. In the first inning on Friday, the Wolverines scored two runs on a series of three wild pitches which allowed both Blanco and Peters to score. Similarly, in the first inning of Saturday’s game, runners advanced and later scored on a wild pitch and a passed ball.
“If a team’s gonna give us bases we need to take them,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “If they’re gonna give us balls at the plate, we need to take them and take our walks. Being on base is critical, and we take whatever we can get.”
For all the opportunities that the Wolverines capitalized on, though, there were several instances over the weekend where they stranded runners in scoring position. In the three games against Purdue, Michigan left a total of 16 runners on base.
On Friday, three runners were left on base before Blanco’s fifth-inning two-RBI single. The opening frame on Saturday ended with the bases loaded. Sunday saw three separate instances in which the inning ended with a base runner standing on third base, before the Wolverines finally pulled away.
“We know we have to do a better job at that,” said Blanco. “And I think that we can even score more runs than we did this past game. I think we had a lot of missed opportunities, and it’s something we need to get better at this week.”
Against a team like Purdue, being unable to take advantage of an opponents’ miscues may not change the final result. But as Michigan moves forward in Big Ten play and competes against tougher opponents, the errors, walks and heads-up plays will become increasingly important. Failing to capitalize on them may come back to haunt the Wolverines.