The No. 1 Michigan softball team entered its Friday game against Nebraska as the highest-scoring team in the country. In its previous Big Ten series, the Wolverines swept Indiana, outscoring the Hoosiers, 31-9, driving its ascension to the top spot in the national rankings.
Friday, though, the Wolverines’ offense tallied only one extra base hit. They reached base just eight times, a far cry from their previous nation-leading offensive output. And present throughout the game were subtle errors that added up to a 1-0 loss to the Cornhuskers.
Trailing by one in the seventh inning, Friday, Michigan (8-1 Big Ten, 29-4 overall) made a baserunning error that cost it a chance to tie the game. While the top of the order awaited the chance to tie the game or take the lead, senior outfielder Olivia Richvalsky entered the game to pinch-run for sophomore infielder Aidan Falk at second base. As senior second baseman Sierra Romero — who leads the team in most batting statistics — stood in the on-deck circle, senior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence hit a ball to left field.
Richvalsky chose to tag up on the fly ball and found herself out at third thanks to a pinpoint throw from Cornhuskers’ left fielder Gina Metzler. Game over.
As well as the Wolverines have performed this season, their past series against Nebraska (6-5, 25-14) made them appear, well, normal.
In its two victories, Michigan defeated the Cornhuskers by just a combined five runs. Part of this struggle can be attributed to its troubles on the basepaths throughout the series.
Richvalsky’s mistake proved to be the most costly, but she was not the only Wolverine to have a base running error. Saturday, sophomore outfielder Nikki Wald attempted to steal her first base of the season, but was thrown out. The Wolverines failed to mount an attack the rest of the inning and maintained a slim one-run lead until the seventh when Lawrence hit a two-run home run.
Michigan will focus on base running and communication this week in practice before facing Michigan State on Wednesday and a weekend home series against Ohio State. Lawrence emphasized that in order to perfect these techniques on the basepaths, players must change their mentality.
“(It’s) important to look up as you’re rounding the base, see if (Michigan coach Carol Hutchins) is gonna send you or hold you up,” Lawrence said. “(Hutchins) likes to hold you up at the last second, so you gotta go hard all the way around third and then brake if you need to.”
In the third game of the weekend series, with the Wolverines holding a 6-5 lead, junior third baseman Lindsey Montemarano walked up to the plate with runners on second and third with one out, eager to extend the Wolverines’ lead. Unfortunately for Michigan, another costly base running error doomed its rally. Montemarano hit a hard line drive to third base caught by Cornhusker MJ Knighten, who tagged out Lawrence, who was slightly leading off.
Though the Wolverines came back to win in their past two games, the closeness of the final score is cause for concern. Hutchins said Sunday that the game felt similar to a postseason matchup.
Hutchins need not worry about her team scoring runs, as Michigan leads the Big Ten in nearly every offensive category and consistently gets on base. But the Wolverines sometimes show lapses in these minor yet equally important areas: running on the basepaths and tagging up.
The Nebraska series demonstrated that Michigan’s bats know the opportune time to come alive. Still, the Wolverines’ activity on the basepaths — while not the primary focus of the game — can clearly affect its result.