The Wolverines came into their weekend series hoping to put the pieces together. On Friday, their start told a different story.
Just four pitches into the game, Ohio State outfielder Melina Wilkinson lasered a ball over the right-field fence against Michigan senior right-hander Alex Storako to give the Buckeyes a 1-0 lead. And four pitches later, catcher Sam Hackenbracht doubled down the left field line.
Though Storako delivered two consecutive strikeouts to escape the inning, the tone was already set for the Michigan softball team (27-14 overall, 7-7 Big Ten) as it lost to Ohio State (28-10, 8-5) in the series opener, 6-2. The Wolverines failed to tame the Buckeyes’ balanced hitting.
“Every part of our defense (went wrong),” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I didn’t think we were good from the get-go. They were all fired up in the locker room, but then you got to be in a competitive mindset. And it’s the only time it matters.”
In the next two innings, Ohio State’s contact hitting continued, but it did not reap the same success. As the top of their order batted for a second time, Storako kept the ball in the infield, producing two strikeouts and an infield popup.
Outside of one single from freshman outfielder Ellie Sieler in the second, the Wolverines couldn’t capitalize with their bats. Buckeyes right-hander Lexie Handley struck out the top of the Michigan lineup in order to end the third.
The Wolverines’ silence ended in the fourth, as fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump smashed a solo shot to left, tying the game. Michigan built on that momentum with a single from junior outfielder Audrey LeClair. LeClair’s speed made for an easy steal of second which set up for a pinch hit single from senior outfielder Lexie Blair, who is working on her return from a leg injury. A muffed throw from second base sent LeClair home, giving Michigan the 2-1 lead.
But the Wolverines responded with an error of their own. It sparked an equally detrimental inning that ended Storako’s outing and swung the game in favor of Ohio State.
And, unfortunately for Michigan, the momentum never shifted.
Another hit and steal from Buckeyes Wilkison led to the Wolverines’ decision to intentionally walk Hackenbracht. While loading the bases, the action also kept the possibility of a double play alive. Storako hit the next batter, forcing the tying run home. Two singles — the second off of relieving freshman right-hander Annabelle Widra — and a sacrifice fly sent two more in, skidding the Wolverines to a 5-2 deficit.
Michigan’s batting had no response to Ohio State’s production, with another one-two-three inning from Handley quickly sending Widra and the Wolverines back into the field.
“We got runners all over the bases and when we finally got them on, we didn’t swing at pitches,” Hutchins said. “For the first three innings we let her throw it right down the middle. We have to own that because it needs to change.”
Meanwhile, the contact of the Buckeyes’ bats kept ringing out. A ground-rule double to left center began the sixth inning and a single up the middle drove the runner in, extending the advantage to four.
Michigan looked to make a push in the bottom of the sixth, but again fell short. Sieler and LeClair singled and doubled respectively; however, two strikeouts would strand both runners in scoring position.
In the final inning, the Wolverines failed to produce any offense at the plate, preventing a late rally.
There were one too many mistakes in the circle and the field to expect anything else.