Through its first 27 innings of the 2021 season, the Michigan softball team (4-2) was dominant, outscoring its opponents Purdue (2-3) and Iowa (2-4) by a combined score of 16-1.
Then, the 28th inning came.
Sophomore pitcher Chandler Dennis started the seventh inning of the Wolverines’ fourth game in place of junior pitcher Alex Storako, who had helped put them up 6-1. In her short stint on the mound, Dennis helped the Hawekeyes find a little life, giving up four quick runs while only retiring one batter. Storako was promptly brought back in relief.
Then, one strikeout and an outfield assist at second from fifth-year outfielder Haley Hoogenraad later, the game was over. Michigan weathered Iowa’s run and held on to win 6-5, bolstered by Storako’s “calm and collected” late game efforts.
However, this was the last mark in the win column the Wolverines would etch on the weekend.
The sliver of negative momentum from that 28th inning carried over into Sunday’s games against Illinois (5-1, 5-1), where the Fighting Illini handed Michigan a pair of 2-1 defeats to cap off its season-opening series.
While the final 15 innings didn’t quite go as the Wolverines may have hoped, they nonetheless started the season strong and Michigan dominated Friday’s opening doubleheader, buoyed by its pitching.
“Alex Storako and (senior pitcher Meghan) Beaubien have definitely been holding their own as a one-two punch,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said last week.
In the first game, Beaubien dominated the Boilermakers with 19 strikeouts while allowing only one hit, earning Michigan a 4-0 victory — Beaubien struck out 41 and gave up eight hits on the weekend. Storako followed suit in the second game with 16 strikeouts and only two hits allowed, leading to an identical 4-0 result, and finished the weekend with 37 strikeouts and 10 hits allowed.
Friday’s comprehensive pitching performance wasn’t the sole reason Michigan came out of the weekend’s first series unscathed, though: Junior left fielder Lexie Blair scored two runs and drove in one. Additionally, senior first baseman Lou Allan and sophomore infielder Julia Jimenez each drove in two runs in the first and second game, respectively.
The new season also made for an opportunity for a few new faces to try and work their way into the lineup. Freshman utility player Sierra Kersten scored her first run in her first game, along with a hit. Over the rest of the weekend, Kersten found a way to make an impact with three more hits in 16 more at bats.
“Sierra Kersten has had an outstanding preseason for us and really I think came into her own a little bit,” Hutchins said last week.
Saturday’s doubleheader was, for the most part, more of the same, with the Wolverines winning two games against Iowa by scores of 2-0 and 6-5. Beaubien struck out 12 more and gave up two hits in the first, and Storako racked up another 11 strikeouts and gave up three hits and just one run in the second. Blair continued her big weekend with two runs, two RBI and a homerun.
While Beaubien, Storako and Blair consistently impressed, the Wolverines could have had more success if not for their struggles with runners on base — a fact made clear in both games against Illinois. In the seventh inning of the first game, Michigan was down 2-1 and had a chance to tie it. But three outs and two stranded runners later, the game concluded. It was the same story in the second game, where, in total, Michigan left six runners on base.
Michigan’s path to a 4-2 weekend followed many ups and downs, but even still, they now sit tied for third place in the Big Ten and already have some strong performances under their belt with the season just getting under way.