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Saturday’s bout against Penn State, the second of a three-game weekend series, took an entirely different form than the first. 

On Friday, in a run-rule drubbing of the Nittany Lions, the No. 23 Michigan softball team took a little while to heat up. Once it did though, it was scorching hot, putting together a dominant 8-0 performance in just five innings of play.

On Saturday, the hard contact and plentiful hits of the day before carried over, but a new problem arose — bringing those runners across home plate.

Over the course of the game, the Wolverines left 11 runners on base. 

“Sometimes teams struggle when they play good teams and good pitchers, to string along some hits,” junior outfielder Audrey LeClair said. “We were all making solid contact and felt like we had some unlucky goes with some balls.”

Michigan started hitting early and often. In the very first at-bat of the game, graduate transfer outfielder Kristina Burkhardt reached base as she continued her dominance at the plate. Freshman outfielder Ellie Sieler reached first on a fielder’s choice and then advanced to second on a single from senior catcher Hannah Carson. With runners in scoring position though, the bats dried up.

Graduate transfer second baseman Melina Livingston and senior third baseman Taylor Bump flew out and struck out respectively to end the inning unceremoniously.

The drought continued in the second as another two runners — this time junior first baseman Lauren Esman and sophomore second baseman Sierra Kersten — were left on the bases.

“Give the pitchers credit,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Give the pitching coach credit for it. They changed it up a little from yesterday, and I think three different pitchers definitely takes a little bit to get used to them and I think that was their gameplan coming in.”

As the Nittany Lions cycled pitchers, the Wolverines’ struggle to score the runners that they put on base continued.

Bump seemed to be the only one immune, as her recent stretch of RBI-filled games continued. Her double to the wall scored Livingston from first, and gave Michigan a short-lived one run lead. This lead was erased in short order by catcher Cassie Lindmark’s solo home run, the only blip on freshman right hander Lauren Derkowski’s solid five-inning outing.

And yet, even amid the disappointment of leaving so many runners stranded, Michigan remained unfazed. 

“It didn’t affect us in the dugout,” LeClair said. “Just reminding ourselves that we are making good contact, we are hitting some solid balls right now. They’re gonna drop at some point. So that’s all that matters.”

And that mindset manifested itself in the game’s final frame. 

The seventh began like many previous innings. Livingston hit a hard double to the wall, just failing to repeat her game-ending home run from the day before. Esman was then hit by a pitch to put two runners on. 

LeClair was up next, with a walk-off one hit away. At this moment, the team was 0-11 with runners in scoring position, and LeClair herself had been pinch-hit for earlier in the game.

This time though, LeClair came in clutch as a ball finally dropped fair. She hit a looping flyball into short left, and Melina Livingston was able to score with ease. 

And while Michigan was able to steal the win against Penn State, namely behind a strong pitching performance, the game still presented a worrying data point. 

A team cannot bat 1-12 with runners in scoring position and expect to consistently win games.

The Wolverines have no more games to give in Big Ten play. As they dig themselves out of the 0-4 conference  hole, there is no room for error.

So although this game seems to be an anomaly for now, it cannot be repeated if Michigan wants to achieve its postseason goals.