Going into its final game of the series against Ohio State on Sunday, the Michigan softball team was riding a 14-game win streak. Only one day earlier, it blasted 26 hits in a doubleheader, symbolic of a swelling offense that had found its rhythm. It was invincible so far against Big Ten competition.
The Wolverines had been making it look easy.
But that didn’t mean that it always would be easy. And Sunday shed light on that.
In its first time being shutout in over a month, No. 18 Michigan (8-1 Big Ten, 28-8-1 overall) fell, 5-0, at the hands of the 25th-ranked Buckeyes (7-2, 23-9). Though the Wolverines took the series with consecutive victories Saturday, they left Columbus with their previously perfect conference record gone.
“Today wasn’t easy,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We get our toughness when things don’t go our way, not just when things go our way. And we need to be tougher when things aren’t going our way.”
In a storyline that seems all too familiar for Michigan this season, it left eight runners stranded on base Sunday, finding just three hits on the day. For a team seeing so many wins as of late, this problem may be easy to overlook, but it has continued to plague the Wolverines all season.
With a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning, Ohio State took a 1-0 lead that Michigan would not be able to recover from. In the fifth inning, the Buckeyes sealed the deal under pressure, picking up four additional runs with two outs on the board. The offensive surge led to the removal of senior right-hander Megan Betsa from the circle, putting junior right-hander Tera Blanco in her place to finish the game.
The Wolverines saw their best scoring opportunity in the final inning with two outs and bases loaded. But they couldn’t capitalize, stranding all three runners and ending the game.
Hutchins was less than pleased with the day’s performance.
“We had so many poor at-bats,” Hutchins said. “We swung at poor pitches and we didn’t have anybody step up and give us confidence in our lineup.”
But that’s not to say Ohio State’s sole victory on the weekend wasn’t well deserved. The Buckeyes had triple the number of hits as Michigan and stayed dominant in the circle as well.
Ohio State’s right-hander Shelby McCombs — the third-best pitcher in the Big Ten, according to earned-run average — commanded the circle with 10 strikeouts, neutralizing the Wolverines’ offensive efforts throughout the day.
“I thought Shelby McCombs was outstanding today,” Hutchins said. “She threw a great game against us and she built on her confidence. Her presence kept getting better and better. But again, when you’re facing good pitching you have to counter it. And we really just played into her game. It was her win.”
However, Saturday’s story was much different.
In the pair of games, Michigan outshined the Buckeyes across the board.
Seven separate Wolverines pounded out hits in both games, contributing to 13 RBI on the day. Senior shortstop Abby Ramirez and junior first baseman Aidan Falk registered four hits apiece, with Falk bringing in four RBI.
During the second game, Falk blasted a three-run bomb, seizing the lead that Ohio State previously held. Blanco was a presence at the plate as well, adding four RBI in the game, including a three-run double that cushioned Michigan’s victory in the sixth inning.
Sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield posted a career-high four hits in the second game, going 7-for-10 on the day.
Canfield’s elite performance in the doubleheader is consistent with her recent achievement at the plate. She now bats .373 on the season — the third-best average for the Wolverines.
“I’ve just kind of been getting comfortable,” Canfield said. “And I just go up (to the plate) to attack, see ball hit ball, just keeping it simple.”
Betsa had yet another impressive showing as well, fanning 21 Buckeyes over 10 total innings pitched on the day. The ace tossed a complete-game win in the first slate and relieved Blanco for the last three innings of the second. She was untouchable in relief, allowing zero hits and collecting nine strikeouts.
Moving forward, Michigan is looking to have a lot more days like Saturday.
“My goal is for us to just keep getting better,” Hutchins said. “We’ve gotten a lot better in the last month and two months, but I thought we took a step back (Sunday). We can’t ever think that were done getting better.”