After spending most of the season as the Michigan softball team’s second pitcher, Alex Storako couldn’t have picked a better time to elevate her game.
The freshman right-hander has carved up opposing lineups over the last month. She’s racked up a pair of Big Ten Freshman of the Week selections and a Big Ten Pitcher of the Week award to prove it. On Wednesday, she was tabbed as a member of the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
Storako’s college ERA has never eclipsed the 3.00 mark, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been smooth sailing. Earlier this season, her two biggest obstacles came in the form of walks and home runs. Her control was her own worst enemy.
After allowing multiple walks 14 times and surrendering 15 long balls through her first 26 appearances, she has taken massive strides forward over her seven most recent outings.
In those performances, Storako has walked just six batters across 23.2 innings without giving up a homer. She has emerged as the perfect complement to sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien, last season’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. Storako’s 1.99 ERA and 182 strikeouts are a near-mirror image of Beaubien’s 2.06 clip and 187 punchouts, though the latter has pitched nearly 50 more innings. As a right-hander, Storako prevents opposing lineups from getting comfortable throughout a series after they’ve already seen the Wolverines’ southpaw ace.
“I have to say that Alex Storako has done the one thing coaches enjoy: She gets better every week,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She’s given us a whole different look. She’s given us an added arm when we needed one, and we have needed that. (Beaubien) has had some fantastic games, and she’s had some games we needed to give teams a different look. Storako has stepped it up, especially the last month, and going into this postseason, we’re going to need it.”
A statsheet won’t tell you just how much she’s grown, but the naked eye will. Storako’s confidence is on a new level, and that swagger could be a difference maker this postseason. It’s a new dimension to an already-dominant arsenal.
Storako’s beaming confidence was on full display during the Wolverines’ final home series. She tossed 11 innings of one-run ball while amassing 19 strikeouts and earning a pair of wins. She showed her season-long trajectory of improvement as she only walked one batter and didn’t give up a single home run.
“I was able to use every pitch I have,” Storako said after throwing five shutout innings against the Nittany Lions on Apr. 27. “That really helped me when my rise ball wasn’t working as well because I was able to rely on other pitches. That led to the greatest success. I haven’t been able to do that in the past and I think that came in really handy today. Another factor was being able to make adjustments pitch-by-pitch and doing it after the first mistake.”
The next weekend, Michigan took the field in College Park with a chance to clinch the program’s 11th Big Ten title in 12 years. After the Wolverines raced out to a 6-0 lead, Maryland clawed back into the game in the fifth inning. The Terrapins tagged Beaubien for three earned runs, forcing Hutchins to remove her.
With Michigan’s championship hopes hanging in the balance, Hutchins turned to Storako. She immediately walked the first two batters, showing control issues reminiscent of her early-season bumps in the road.
But with the bases loaded and no outs, Storako rose to the occasion and struck out three consecutive batters. In her final regular season outing, she flexed an entire season’s worth of growth.
“(Storako) is showing herself in this half of the season,” Hutchins said. “She’s getting better. She’s giving us more innings, and (they are) really quality innings. She’s been a little inconsistent but she’s really turned a good corner. We need her, we need a (pitching) staff.”
For the Wolverines, the Storako of late could be a key cog in a memorable May.