After last weekend, one thing was cleared up for the No. 19 Michigan softball team: who will back up sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien in the pitching rotation.
Alex Storako answered that question when the freshman right-hander made her collegiate debut in the first game of the season on Friday. Storako’s entrance at the top of the fifth inning, when the Wolverines were trailing North Carolina State by two, was a testament to the confidence she has earned from Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. She didn’t disappoint, pitching the final three innings without allowing a single hit, which allowed Michigan to squeeze out a narrow 4-3 win.
“We were certainly excited to see what (Storako) was going to do for us,” Hutchins said. “She’s done nothing but get better for us.”
And from the looks of this weekend, Storako may be able to do a lot for the Wolverines. She gave up just nine hits over four games, seven of which were translated into runs. But things weren’t entirely smooth sailing for the freshman pitcher.
Just a few hours after her first collegiate pitch, the Wolverines started Storako in the circle in a game against No. 7 Arizona. Showing her first signs of faltering in the bottom of the third inning, Storako walked two Wildcats. This prompted Hutchins to visit Storako at the mound and provide some straightforward advice: Be confident out there.
“We want all pitchers to have command of their pitches,” Hutchins said. “In (Storako’s) case, she did a really nice job. She had a walk throw against Arizona and, more than anything, she needs to be very one pitch focused and really intense. Every pitch counts in this game. You can’t take a pitch off.
“I think (Sunday) she was probably a little tired. Everyone’s a little tired. Five games is a lot of games. It’s a long weekend, especially for a young pitcher.”
While Storako was later taken out of that game, she went on to play in games on both Saturday and Sunday.
Over the course of the weekend, Storako pitched a total of 15 innings, just shy of Beaubien’s 18 and far surpassing sophomore right-hander Sarah Schaefer’s single inning. Last week, Hutchins said she was looking for a pitcher to step up and allow Beaubien some rest. As a freshman last year, Beaubien pitched 217 of 371 total innings, a statistic that possibly accounted for the rise in her ERA towards the end of the season.
As Storako began to step into that role, Beaubien began to guide the younger pitcher.
“(Beaubien) is a great mentor,” Storako said. “I’m so excited to have her. She has such great poise and is someone that anyone would love to look up to. She’s really pointed me in the right direction at times and I love having her on the pitching staff with me.”
If the first weekend was any indication, it looks as though Storako will play a pivotal role in the pitching rotation alongside her mentor.
“I just want to improve on getting ahead of the count and attacking batters from the get-go,” Storako said. “Just staying loose throughout the whole game. I hope I can contribute to the team’s success because we just want to win and I will do whatever it takes to do that.”