Through the first four-and-a-half innings of softball between Michigan and Penn state, the two seemed stuck at an impasse.
Sharing just one hit between them, the game had fallen into the repetitive motion of a pitcher’s duel. Both team’s starters, senior right-hander Alex Storako for the Wolverines and left hander Bailey Parshall for the Nittany Lions, looked confident in the circle. Each quickly retired batter after batter to cruise through the first half of the game.
But finally, in the bottom of the fourth inning, things seemed on the verge of opening up.
With runners on first and second and no outs, it became clear that this moment could be all that Michigan needed to take the game. But just as quickly as the Wolverines had gotten on base, that optimism seemed to fade away.
Two batters went down in order, and fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump, the starter with the lowest batting average on the team, stepped up to the plate.
But Bump didn’t pay any attention to averages or expectations. Instead she hit a mammoth home run so far beyond the left field fence that it would have landed in the neighboring Ray Fisher Stadium stadium had it not hit the scoreboard first.
“It always feels good to hit an absolute moonshot out of the park,” Bump said. “… And I think that the way that (us upperclassmen) stepped up is by letting go of the pressure and just being determined that we as upperclassmen, with our experience, know how to get it done.”
Up until just recently, things haven’t quite been going how Bump would’ve hoped. After a breakout senior year in which she hit .325, launched 12 home runs and was named to the All Big Ten first team last season, she has seen her production stagnate this go around. With only one home run before Friday, and her batting average falling to just .182 before the final Northwestern game, she seemed to have fallen from her previous highs.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that the Michigan coaching staff’s faith in her hadn’t shaken. She has started every single game and is almost never pinch hit for.
“Obviously the season didn’t open up the exact way that I’d hoped it would,” Bump said. “But my teammates never stopped believing in me, and my coaches never stopped believing in me. So I was never necessarily focused on the “bad.”
And in just the past week, that ‘good’ has finally arrived.
In the past three games, Bump has finally looked like a previous iteration of herself. In the last game against Northwestern, she went two for two with two RBI. Against Michigan State, she added two more RBI, and with the three-run bomb against Penn State, she tacked on three more.
Bump has just 10 RBIs on the season. But, seven of them have come in the past three games.
With a third straight strong performance, Bump seems to finally be stepping up. And it couldn’t come at a more important time for the Wolverines. With their leadoff hitter — senior outfielder Lexie Blair — sidelined with an injury, and attempting to climb out of an early hole in the Big Ten standings, Michigan needs its pieces to fall back into place. And for that to happen, it needs consistency and leadership.
Whether Bump’s recent breakthrough is a temporary improvement or not isn’t something that could be said for certain. It is perfectly plausible that her current hot streak is just that — a streak.
But the past three games, culminating in Bump’s fourth inning blast, have demonstrated that she hasn’t completely lost the ability to be a major factor. It isn’t a coincidence that her resurgence has perfectly coincided with the resurgence of the Wolverines, who are suddenly riding a three-game win streak.
Bump and her coaches never lost faith, even amidst her slump. And it looks like that conviction is finally paying off.
“I think you’re going to see (Bump and Blair) break out here,” Tholl said last month.