In the final regular-season weekend series of their careers, the seniors of the No. 2 Michigan softball team put on a show in front of three sold-out crowds at Alumni Field.
Recognizing that their time donning the maize and blue was running out, the seniors stepped up to the plate and delivered for the Wolverines in three run-rule victories over a thoroughly outmatched Rutgers.
“We knew we had to take care of business,” said fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga. “(Michigan coach Carol Hutchins) tells us (every opponent is) in our way, so we’ve gotta get them out of our way and just play our game and focus on us.”
As Michigan scored 28 runs in the series, its three senior starters — second baseman Sierra Romero, center fielder Sierra Lawrence and right fielder Kelsey Susalla — made their presence felt from the batter’s box.
From the leadoff spot, Lawrence continually found ways to reach base, allowing her teammates to drive her in. With two timely walks Friday, she gave Michigan the opportunity to put together a four-run first inning and a five-run second. Saturday, she also launched a leadoff double that resulted in a three-run first inning.
Romero, in the No. 2 spot, often served as the beneficiary of Lawrence’s knack for reaching base. Romero uncorked two-run homers in back-to-back games, both of which brought Lawrence home and led to big innings for the Wolverines.
Following closely behind in the cleanup spot, Susalla played a large role in maintaining the momentum generated by the top of the order during those offensive rallies. Friday, she hit an RBI double amidst the five-run second inning, and Saturday, she hit a single that bridged the gap between Romero’s homer and the rest of the six-run fourth.
Meanwhile, Driesenga, in partnership with junior right-hander Megan Betsa, limited the Scarlet Knights to only one run in the series. In five innings in the circle Saturday, she gave up just three hits while striking out six batters.
By the time Senior Day rolled around Sunday, the seniors had already made their mark, but they saved the best for last on the day dedicated just for them.
“I don’t think any of us felt any stress,” Romero said. “It was just another game, and we didn’t make it more than what it was. We just went out there and played softball the way we know how, and it was in our favor.”
Lawrence, Romero and Susalla combined for six hits and three RBI. Lawrence turned in a 3-for-4 performance that included two RBI, Romero started off the scoring with a solo shot in the first inning and Susalla chipped in with a leadoff double that set up a three-run fourth to clinch the run-rule margin for Michigan.
And in the top of the fifth inning, Driesenga entered the game to relieve Betsa, and subsequently struck out two batters in only one inning pitched to secure the victory.
With the series sweep, the Wolverines captured their ninth consecutive Big Ten title, in no small part due to the play of their seniors, who have now won a conference championship in all four years of their Michigan careers.
However, their careers aren’t done yet. They may have already won 202 games as a class, but as postseason play kicks off, the most important ones are still yet to come.
“They’ve been really great Michigan women,” Hutchins said. “They represent themselves, they represent this program and they take care of the program.
“We’re all going to be in this together, and there’s nothing more fun than the next few weeks. There’s nothing more fun because everybody recognizes what a family we are, and everybody has a great appreciation for it.”