The Michigan softball team (16-3 Big Ten, 36-10-1 overall) notched an expected doubleheader sweep against Indiana (8-11, 22-27) Friday.
But it did so in an unexpected way.
Entering the day, the Wolverines were just sixth in the Big Ten in home runs with 30, a far cry from the team that mashed 86 just last season. This season they have often been forced to manufacture runs via bunts, steals and other “small ball” methods, and, in turn, had trouble with big innings.
Friday, it was four home runs — two in each game — at four crucial times from four crucial contributors that lifted Michigan past the Hoosiers, who it will look to sweep Saturday evening.
The first came off the bat of sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield, to offer breathing room in the opener. Canfield hit a laser line drive that barely cleared the right-center wall for her team-high seventh home run, scoring two. Canfield — now the team leader in home runs with seven — has steadily evolved into the most consistent bat in the lineup.
Freshman utility player Madison Uden followed that up just a few batters later with a bomb 15 rows into the right-center bleachers. Uden seized a spot in the lineup last weekend against Wisconsin when she notched three RBIs in her first career start. With two more hits Friday, Uden may have locked down a significant role for the foreseeable future.
Those home runs, along with three Hoosier passed balls, were key in stretching out the lead while Megan Betsa took care of business. The senior right-hander finished the game with only one run allowed and added eight more strikeouts to her NCAA-leading total of 342.
However, Betsa was far from her best at first, escaping jams with two runners on base in both the first and second innings. From there, though, she settled down, recording 12 straight outs at one point.
Though she faced a bit more trouble in the seventh inning — and lost her shutout with two outs in the frame — the result was never in doubt, as Michigan cruised to a 7-1 victory.
The offensive output marked the third consecutive game with at least seven runs, the first such feat of the season for the inconsistent Wolverine offense.
The third home run, though, may have simultaneously been the least expected and most important of the day.
With just two team hits to that point, and down 1-0, sophomore Alex Sobczak led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a no-doubt, game-tying home run to left field. Sobczak has had an up-and-down season thus far after she lost the initial catcher battle with sophomore Katie Alexander.
But Sobczak has carved a niche — mostly at third base — because she can do things like that, with her game-tying homer breathing life into an offense that was inevitably fatigued from the long day.
One inning later, junior right-fielder Aidan Falk notched the game-winner. The slugger took an inside pitch and sprayed it to the opposite field, barely landing over the left-center wall.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has had trouble keeping Falk consistently in one spot, playing her at first base and right field. But her versatility, Hutchins believes, stems more from her offensive capabilities than defensive flexibility.
The two runs were enough, as junior right-hander Tera Blanco largely kept the Indiana bats at bay, and Betsa closed the door in the seventh to finish off the 2-1 victory.
And though Hutchins will likely seek more regular production from Falk and the team — two runs being a step back from the progress it has shown — she has to be pleased with the potential for increased power production.
If the Wolverines can maintain any sort of propensity for the long ball, they will add an element to their offense that has been sorely lacking all season.