Going into the sixth inning against South Florida, the No. 19 Michigan softball team needed a spark.
The Wolverines, 1-2 on the weekend thus far, led the unranked Bulls 2-1, only scoring in one of the first five innings.
Michigan’s offense hadn’t fared much better in the first three games, with the Wolverines scoring only one run against No. 7 Arizona, none against No. 5 Florida and five runs total. The team pitched solid innings, caught essential fly balls and played tight defense, but scoring wins games, and Michigan wasn’t.
And then the sixth inning hit. Batting in four runs in addition to a grand slam in the final two innings, the Wolverines hit their stride offensively, notching a 10-1 win in their fourth game of the season.
In the USF Opening Weekend Invitational, Michigan went 3-2, beating North Carolina State 4-3, South Florida 10-1 and Illinois State 11-4 but dropping games against Arizona and Florida, 2-1 and 6-0, respectively. Despite maintaining strong defense throughout most of the tournament, the team’s offense fluctuated, starting slow and building up to strong, high-scoring wins to end the weekend.
Though Michigan started the tournament with a win against the Wolfpack, the team’s close game showed an offensive weakness for the Wolverines, who trailed 3-1 after the fourth inning and barely edged a win with three RBI in the fifth inning. Without power hits, that trend continued through Saturday morning in Michigan’s losses to Arizona and Florida.
Regardless, the Wolverines stand by their style of play, even with the hopes of an occasional power hit.
“I think we like consistency,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Whether we hit it over the fence or not, I want to see us air it out at times, especially when it’s in hitter’s counts.”
Despite the offensive lag, the Wolverines saw that power hit from senior second baseman Faith Canfield, who hit a grand slam against South Florida to energize the team’s offense before a decisive win over Illinois State. Canfield’s leadership, along with that of other upperclassmen, set a good example for young hitters like freshman outfielder Lexie Blair, who tallied seven hits on the weekend.
“Anything to help my team to be a spark plug, that’s my main thing,” Blair said. “One of my goals for me is to find any way to get on base.”
Even with highs and lows at the plate, Michigan’s steadfast defense anchored the team, most notably on the mound in freshman pitcher Alex Storako’s regular-season debut. Storako split time with sophomore pitcher Meghan Beaubien, and both performed well, allowing 1.13 and 1.06 WHIPs, respectively. Hutchins noted that Storako will be a force in the lineup going forward, surpassing sophomore Sarah Schaefer as the second pitcher.
“(Schaefer) needs to improve to get herself into the rotation,” Hutchins said. “… The first-weekend timing is tough. I thought we got better as the weekend went, and that’s all I can ask.”