As senior catcher Hannah Carson stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the seventh inning, Michigan stood one out away from yet another painful result to end its Big Ten season.
To make matters worse, the Wolverines’ presumed fate on Friday wasn’t a consequence of the systemic weaknesses that defined their 1-2 series at Northwestern back in April, but an innocent blunder in an otherwise tightly-fought Big Ten semifinal. Freshman right-hander Annabelle Widra threw a wild pitch while intentionally walking Wildcats right fielder Rachel Lewis, allowing for a runner to score and give Northwestern a late 1-0 lead.
But Carson began to turn the page with a hard single to right, getting on base as the tying run and allowing for fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump to bring her well-timed power hitting to the table.
“What we needed to have more than anything was to get Bump up in that inning,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We needed somebody to get on base, and Hannah was outstanding. She went up there and hit the first pitch, which was a changeup … and for Bump to come up — if I could write the plan, that’s what I’d write.”
Clutching up once again, Bump delivered with a left-field bomb. In one swing, she flipped the result and defined the way the Wolverines have grown ever since their early adversity.
In the beginning of Big Ten play, that type of execution was not a given. Michigan was searching for answers and its coaching staff remained concerned that it wasn’t coming from the roster’s experience.
“I need the upperclassmen to give us hope,” Hutchins said at the time. “To give us inspiration, and to show (the freshmen) how to do it.”
Bump, at that time, was a primary example of those shortcomings from the upperclassmen. She left Evanston with a season batting average just barely breaking .200, unrecognizable from her identity as a primary slugger for the Wolverines the season prior. She also had yet to hit a home run since the season opener.
Flash forward to Friday, however, Michigan found itself reaping the full benefits of its experience, with Bump standing entirely at the forefront of that.
“I think it can be (easy to overthink those at bats), but I feel like I’ve been in these moments,” Bump said. “Being a fifth-year kind of helps in those moments a little bit, trying to guide our younger kids in that to just to give them some experience. I felt very confident in that box all day long, so I was just waiting for a good pitch to hit.”
Rounding the bases and yelling out victoriously after the home run, Bump looked like a far cry of the version of herself that was hitting career lows. It was Bump at a new high.
And as the Wolverines celebrated together on the field a half inning later — the win official and Super Soakers in hand — they too were a far cry from the version of themselves that couldn’t find answers. This version put all the pieces together.
“We’re over it, we’ve been over it for a while,” Hutchins said. “Your struggles make you stronger, and that is something that when you’re going through it’s hard to keep sight of — myself included — but I really think it has. These kids have taken punches and they remained unfazed and kept believing.”
Bump’s outlook on her team’s potential has been a peak example of that optimism all season. And with her heroics providing Michigan an opportunity to redeem its only other series loss on Saturday — this time to Nebraska.
“I don’t think we’re peaking because when you’re peaking that means you got to come down,” Bump said. “I think we’re on the rise. We’re on that hill on that high roller coaster and we’re just trying to get better one day at a time.”
If the Wolverines keep putting it all together, they’ll only climb further in the Big Ten Championship Game.