The best way to describe Wednesday night’s rivalry bout between the Michigan and Michigan State softball teams: Stalemate.
Through 8 innings it remained scoreless, with neither team giving an inch. Then, in the top of the ninth, the Wolverines (29-5 Big Ten) broke through, scoring the go-ahead run that would be the difference-maker in their win over the Spartans (10-20).
Junior outfielder Lexie Blair was Michigan’s hero in the final frame. Blair, the leadoff hitter for the Wolverines and the first one up to bat in the top of the ninth, connected solidly with the ball, sending it deep over the right field wall. By taking advantage of a slip-up in one of Michigan State’s Ashley Miller’s 161 total pitches, Blair gave Michigan the lead, and eventually, the win.
“(Miller) had a really good changeup all game,” Blair said. “But my focus was just staying on her drop ball and just driving it however I can. And that’s just how it ended up. I connected with it well and put it out there.”
It was Blair’s fourth hit of the day on five attempts, nearly half of the Wolverines nine total hits. Blair also notched a double and a stolen base earlier in the game, but neither were enough to get her across home plate.
Though Blair was the one who got it done for Michigan, ultimately the win was on the pitcher: junior right-hander Alex Storako. Storako didn’t just hold the Spartans scoreless with only two hits, she set the Wolverine record for most strikeouts in a game with 22, surpassing the previous record of 19 that she also held a share of.
“She was just dialed in, one pitch at a time,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She just was on her game. And a good day to be on it.”
Michigan needed every ounce of effort Storako gave. Just four players besides Blair recorded hits, and without her in the equation, the team batted just .166 on the day. Not a single one of the remaining players’ hits were multi-base hits either, showing a severe lack of power-hitting by the Wolverines.
“Being stranded on second, that’s not what we want,” Blair said. “But we’re able to pick it up the next inning and we had a lot of cases where we had a few hits strung together but we just couldn’t get that clutch hitting to get us into score.”
The Spartan’s pitcher, Miller, deserves some credit for that. She pitched a full nine-inning game, and it wasn’t until Blair that the Wolverines got the better of her. Every jam she found herself in, she pitched out of up until that point.
“We’re fortunate to get the win,” Hutchins said. ” I credit our pitching and our defense, but mostly our pitching. And we still keep working to get better.”