The No. 23 Michigan softball team had everything to prove coming into a weekend series against Ohio State.
It had the chance to sweep its first weekend series of the season, the chance to prove it belonged at the top of the Big Ten and the chance to prove it was a threat to emerge from the regionals.
But nothing went right on Friday.
When asked about the game, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins summed up what went wrong in a single word.
“Everything,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins was right to feel this way. In a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Buckeyes, the Wolverines lagged behind their counterparts in every metric.
Senior right-hander Alex Storako got the start, and looked to build upon the momentum she generated in her one-hit gem against Michigan State earlier that week. But four pitches in, she had a rude awakening. Right fielder Melina Wilkison launched a ball over the center field wall, and already, Michigan was down one.
And its struggles only grew from there.
Misplays and miscommunications in the field throughout the game gave Ohio State extra chances at the plate.
“They only charged us with one error, I can think of three,” Hutchins said. “We also had a throw to the plate late in the game that gave them another opportunity.”
One of these uncharged errors was detrimental. Freshman right-hander Annabelle Widra took the circle in the bottom of the fifth, trying to get out of what was already a four-run inning for the Buckeyes. With two outs, all she needed was one pitch to escape cleanly.
Widra was able to induce weak contact, as outfielder Kaitlyn Coffman hit a dribbler back to the circle. But Widra fumbled the ball and was unable to even attempt a throw to first, allowing a run and prolonging the inning another at-bat.
A flyout ended the inning shortly after, but another Ohio State run crossed the plate that wouldn’t have otherwise.
And Widra’s error was not the only one that allowed extra Buckeye runs.
In fact, the first base runner of that inning was due to an error by graduate second baseman Melina Livingston. Livingston bobbled a hard-hit ground ball for the only recorded error of the game. This error gave the Buckeyes their first baserunner in what would balloon into a dominant four-run inning.
“We have not executed,” Hutchins said. “but I thought it was every facet of the game (that was the problem) and we weren’t good from the get-go.”
And even facets of the game the Wolverines have come to depend on throughout the season have come up short.
The top of the batting order — which is entirely composed of upperclassmen — has carried Michigan’s offense throughout the season. And no one has been more critical to the Wolverines’ success than graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt. Burkhardt has been the engine behind the offense, consistently reaching base from the leadoff spot. Livingston complements Burkhardt by consistently reaching base, and adding power from the box..
But on Friday, these two — as well as senior catcher Hannah Carson — came up empty, going 0-10 combined. For a team that relies on the top of their order to score, the lack of production was killer.
Amid all these flaws, Hutchins still points to leadership as the critical issue to address.
“We need leadership, and leadership is giving us hope and being the one to get it done,” Hutchins said. “Who’s gonna get it done? We’re waiting for someone to get it done. And it’s not working.”
There is a lot to learn from this game. But if the Wolverines want to win this series, they will need to clean up their act.
They need a clean game from the field, and they need leadership from their upperclassmen.
Most of all, they need someone to step up and get it done.