So far this season, when Alex Storako has been pitching, games have had a tendency to get boring.
Not because the excitement or quality of play diminishes. Not because there’s nothing to remark on or take note of. But because games have been incredibly predictable when the senior right-hander has been in the circle — the Michigan softball team usually wins.
And Wednesday afternoon’s game against Oakland was no different. Storako dominated, and the Golden Grizzlies couldn’t do anything about it, as they lost to the Wolverines, 6-0.
“She continues to be our leader,” Michigan associate coach Bonnie Tholl said. “When she walks in the circle, she expects to compete every single pitch to get a swing and miss and to make her pitches work.”
And on Wednesday, her pitches worked.
Storako was consistent in every measure. She controlled counts, attacked the plate and forced Oakland’s batters to swing and miss over and over again to the tune of 15 strikeouts.
In fact, Storako wasn’t just good, she was near perfect — literally. She ended the game having allowed just one hit. And that hit — a bouncing drive to right field on the first pitch of the game — ended up being the only blemish separating her from the first perfect game of her career.
But in every moment except for the game’s first pitch, Storako controlled the action. It wasn’t just that Oakland couldn’t manage hits off of her; they could hardly even make contact with the ball. There was really only one other moment in the outing — a deep fly ball which graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt snagged on the warning track — when Storako even seemed threatened.
Even though she doesn’t bat, her impact extended throughout the lineup. Her performance demoralized the Golden Grizzlies. Through four and a half innings, the game was tied. Oakland’s right hander Sydney Campbell was having a great game and the Wolverines’ bats were sluggish.
But Storako bought her team exactly what it needed: time. It didn’t matter that Michigan had just two hits up to that point, because even with Campbell at her best, Storako was better. The Wolverines eventually found their groove at the plate with three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings. But by outdeuling Campbell, Storako gave Michigan the time it needed to find its rhythm.
“I just attacked every hitter and got ahead really early,” Storako said.
While Wednesday was an especially strong performance from Storako, it almost blended in, because she has proven dominant in each one of her recent outings.
In just 11 starts, the senior right-hander has amassed 12 wins while allowing only nine total runs for a 0.71 ERA. She has been the team’s anchor. She pitches first in tight series and plays the role of reliever perfectly whenever she has been called to do so, and it has led to results.
Michigan has been on a little bit of a roll lately with five straight victories and 13 wins in its last 15 games. And Storako has been a major part of that success.
“When there’s confidence and presence in the circle and she is executing her role, it makes it easier for everyone else behind her, whether it’s on defense or they’re up in the box,” Tholl said. “We really stress to stay in the moment and stay present, and I think that’s exactly what Alex is doing.
“It can be nothing but contagious to her teammates, and we hope that it continues to be.”