Down two in the top of the seventh, Northwestern searched for a spark.
The Wildcats got runners to first and brought in pinch runners for more speed on the basepaths, all in an attempt to manufacture some sort of answer to the suffocating Michigan defense.
There was no answer.
Junior right handed pitcher Alex Storako ended the game with a strikeout and sent the fans home happy.
“I think just powering through,” Storako said of the team’s defensive success. “They’re a really tough lineup one through nine, and even some extras on the bench. And I think we just, as a team, did a really good job at persevering this weekend.”
That sequence perfectly demonstrated how the day went for both teams. The Wolverines (24-5 Big Ten) suffocated the Wildcats (22-10) all day with their pitching and stellar fielding play in the 2-0 victory that sealed the weekend series win.
In the early innings, there was a clear disparity between the Wolverine offense and defense.. Storako shined on the mound with four strikeouts while only allowing one hit in the first pair of innings. But on offense, Michigan stranded runners in scoring position and struck out four times.
The pressure on the Wolverines’ defense heated up a little in the third. After beginning the inning with a strikeout, Storako gave Northwestern’s Skyler Shellmyer a hittable pitch that she singled into centerfield, just out of the reach of junior outfielder Lexie Blair. After another strikeout from Storako, Wildcat Jordyn Rudd got a two-out single that advanced her teammate Shellmyer to a scoring position. With the pressure on Michigan’s defense, sophomore second baseman Julia Jimenez made a tough catch to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.
The Wolverines quickly turned that defensive stand into offense.
Senior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez got on base with a single into left field. Then, with two outs and Rodrigiuez still at first, senior third baseman Taylor Bump continued her career best season at the plate with a two run homer into the right field grandstands — her sixth in the last nine games. Bump’s home run tallied her fourth hit on the weekend — she ended with five — and proved to be the early decider.
“Just trusting myself and trusting that I was ready for that moment and just not making the situations bigger than they were,” Bump said of what led to her success on the weekend. “It’s really easy to feel a lot of pressure when you’re facing a really good team and a weekend that really matters for us and just finding a way to let go of that pressure and trust myself and trust that I was just going to do what I do.”
With the lead in hand, Storako and the Michigan defense went back to work. Storako quickly tallied two more strikeouts and then senior first baseman Lou Allan corralled a ground ball and made the tag out at first to end the inning. The Northwestern defense responded with a similar three up and three down inning, making short work of the Wolverine batters.
That’s how the game looked for both teams on Sunday. Two pitchers and defenses making plays and not letting the bats get going.
Michigan sealed the deal with a 1-2-3 inning at the top of the sixth and the aforementioned seventh..
The win sealed a series victory over the Wildcats for the Wolverines — as they reeled off three straight wins following their opening loss on Friday night. They also ensured they would keep their place atop the Big Ten standings.
“You’ve got to be resilient,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said about the weekend. “And you got to keep fighting … so honestly it’s something hopefully that we can draw some confidence from as we move forward.”