Nursing a three-hit shutout deep into the sixth inning, senior right-hander Alex Storako carefully looked at her wristband. She deliberately took her stance in the circle, leaned back and fired. LSU catcher Morgan Cummins chased the rapidly sinking drop-ball into the dirt for her third strike. Storako screamed and emphatically pumped her fist as her teammates mobbed around her. The Michigan softball team’s shutout was still alive.
Even though a two out double in the last inning ruined Storako’s scoreless weekend, it should in no way diminish her performance.
Both Storako and graduate left-hander Megan Beaubien, the one-two punch of Michigan’s ‘deuce,’ have been expected to carry the load early this season as the bats have started off slow. Beaubien has slipped early, posting a 3.00 ERA so far, but Storako has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations this weekend. She put on a masterclass on Saturday against two top-25 teams — a potent Tigers offense and a capable UCF one.
In the 2021 season, Storako posted a 1.05 ERA and garnered Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors. She has been locked in early this season and is looking poised to surpass even her commanding 2021 numbers.
“I think (Beaubien and I) have been working on the little things over the summer and fall,” Storako said. “Both Megan and I are developing ourselves, because at this point that’s what will take us to the next level.”
These little things have strengthened Storako’s game even further. Against some of the best opponents the Wolverines will play all year, Storako showed unflinching poise and development of some of her lesser-used secondary pitches. She has incorporated the drop-ball into her game and used it to great effect against LSU.
So far this season, Storako has only allowed a single extra base hit — the seventh inning LSU double when the game was all but decided. When asked about her performance, Storako is quick to defer credit.
“I think that what happens in our bullpen is just so special,” Storako said. “Coach (Jennifer) Brundage does such a great job of developing us from day one, and I think that the way that she coaches and teaches us is why (we have) such good pitchers.”
Storako was already a formidable pitcher as a freshman, but in the years under Brundage’s tutelage, she has grown even more and has anchored the one-two punch for multiple years.
Now, alongside Brundage, she is looking to develop another quality Michigan pitcher in freshman right-hander Lauren Derkowski. With two starting aces in Storako and Beaubien, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has the unique luxury to start developing another starting pitcher. If Derkowski struggles, Hutchins can slot either of the duo in, and feel confident that they will keep the offense in the game.
“The biggest adjustment from high school to college is the mental aspect,” Storako said. “Meghan and I are here to help them morph into the great pitchers Michigan has always had.”
Even though Derkowski struggled in her first outing against the Knights, she was able to adjust, letting in just one run in her five appearances since.
Derkowski has already proved her worth as a third option in the bullpen. Having a third option gives Michigan’s opponents much more to prepare for, and can allow for more creative game-planning.
With Storako and Derkowski’s performance in the circle so far, all that’s needed is for Beaubien and the offence to keep up.