BLOOMINGTON — Michigan was struggling against Minnesota right-hander Sydney Smith.
After three innings, the team had no hits, and Smith was showing that the Golden Gophers hadn’t skipped a beat starting her over Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Amber Fiser, who had pitched earlier in the afternoon.
But in the top of the fourth inning, senior outfielder Natalie Peters popped up a single to shallow-left field for the top-seeded Wolverines’ first hit of the game.
After freshman outfielder Lexie Blair hit a fielder’s choice to Minnesota shortstop Allie Arneson that advanced Peters to second base, senior first baseman Alex Sobczak struck out looking.
Then, junior third baseman Madison Uden stepped up to the plate with two outs. This was her second look at Smith –– grounding out in her first at-bat. With “Desperado” by Rihanna echoing throughout Andy Mohr Field, she calmed down and took a deep breath.
Uden knew exactly what to expect from Smith and swung at the first pitch she saw. Launching it into the gap between left and center field for a double, Uden brought home Peters — the go-ahead run. Rather than squandering another runner on base in a game that presented relatively few opportunities to strike, Uden made sure she capitalized.
“We had a game plan and, thankfully, that followed through with her pitch sequence,” Uden said. “I was looking to drive the ball (the opposite side), and she pitched it outside, and so I took it hard. I knew we were gonna score, but I knew we needed bases, so I was just looking to hit the ball really hard and it went to the gap.”
This marked yet another time on Saturday that Uden came through in a pivotal moment for Michigan.
Saturday morning, the Wolverines possessed a 4-0 lead over No. 5 seed Wisconsin in the bottom of the third inning. The Badgers had just substituted their right-handed ace Kaitlyn Menz, who played six innings on Friday, for a more rested right-hander in Haley Hestekin, hoping this change would halt Michigan’s early success.
Uden quickly found herself in a two-strike situation with the new pitcher, but rather than becoming timid, she unleashed a home run to right field –– showing that regardless of who was in the circle, the Wolverines were ready.
“I was seeing the ball really well in that at-bat, even the previous at-bat, but it just felt good,” Uden said. “I think I really took off that and tried to be confident the rest of the weekend.”
Finding this confidence and maintaining it throughout every game this weekend was a stark contrast from Uden’s performance in the first half of the regular season. Her .210 batting average, zero home runs and six RBI through the first 25 games resembled that of a junior-year slump –– a surprise after a breakout sophomore campaign where she found herself batting at a .357 clip with 35 RBIs and a .448 on-base percentage. But her reliable fielding and leadership kept her in the starting lineup, and it has paid off, especially as of late.
In five of the last six weekends, Uden has contributed a home run to Michigan’s surging offense and in the last 27 games, she’s averaged almost one RBI per game. Not to mention, the Wolverines have won 26 of those 27 games. There’s a good chance that as long as Uden maintains her form, the Wolverines will continue to produce pivotal runs in the games that matter most.