One swing of the bat can change an entire game.
After 5 and 1/2 innings of scoreless ball, it was one hack from sophomore left fielder Courtney Richardson in the bottom of the fifth that shifted the momentum Friday afternoon. The sophomore’s 224-foot bomb over the fence of the deepest part of Alumni Field — that slightly evaded the center fielder’s outstretched glove — gave the No. 19 Michigan softball team a 1-0 advantage, a lead the Wolverines wouldn’t squander.
In the first slate of the its opening Big Ten weekend series, Michigan beat Penn State (0-1 Big Ten, 12-15 overall), 3-0. A late offensive surge of three runs in the final two innings, along with another stellar outing from senior right-hander Megan Betsa, led the Wolverines (1-0, 20-7-1) to their sixth straight home win.
“Before (Richardson’s home run), we were hitting the ball pretty hard,” said second baseman Faith Canfield. “But Courtney’s hit was just that spark. Once that happened, things started falling for us.”
Michigan rode that newfound energy two batters later when sophomore right fielder Natalie Peters whistled a two-out single into left field. After a wild pitch advanced Peters to second, Canfield drove her home with an RBI single up the middle. The Wolverines added an insurance run later in the frame when a fielder’s choice by senior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano scored junior pinch runner Nikki Wald.
While the Richardson homer swung the game in Michigan’s favor, coach Carol Hutchins knows the matchup could have just as easily gone in the direction of the Nittany Lions.
“I know Betsa is capable of shutting them down,” Hutchins said. “But in a game like today, one runner on base and one swing can put anybody in the game and anybody can hand it out, anybody on that field.
“We’re fortunate to win the game, in my opinion. We win the game because of Megan Betsa.”
Betsa lived up to her coach’s praise. After not starting the two games earlier in the week due to tightness in her back, the ace came out in typical dominant fashion with a complete-game shutout, recording 14 strikeouts and allowing just three hits and a walk. In her last four appearances, she has fanned 50 batters over 24 innings, surrendering no runs and a mere five hits.
While Betsa pitched lights out again Friday, Michigan struggled to put many runners on base, despite Canfield’s two doubles in her first two at-bats. But any attempts to help Betsa were stifled by Penn State freshman right-hander Madey Smith, a pitcher the Wolverines didn’t expect to face.
Hutchins cited poor timing and being out in front of the ball as two contributors to the low-quality swings that hurt Michigan early, and two quick errors as indicators of a defensive liability for the usually sure-handed Wolverines.
Alongside mechanical issues on both sides of the ball, Hutchins believes the nerves of playing its first Big Ten game caused Michigan’s success to waver, which she believes shouldn’t be present on the field.
“I think our game approach is not where I want it to be,” Hutchins said. “You can’t approach the game differently; you can’t approach the Big Ten season differently – it doesn’t work. I think they were all trying too hard, I think we had the case of the Big Ten opening jitters, which somehow I overlooked because I’m just all about trying to get better. We’ve been embracing getting better and now we changed gears.
“People have jitters, it’s normal to have jitters, but the game’s the game. Play it on the field. You’ve got to have the guts and the courage to play the game on the field. We don’t practice all these hours to be good at practice.”
But the jitters seemed to subside with Richardson’s blast in the bottom of the fifth, breathing life into a winded offense and a weakened defense. That led to another two runs and solid plays in the field to end the game.
One swing of the bat can change an entire game. The Wolverines were fortunate it went their way.