Stagnant bats dominated Michigan’s game early Friday.
Then, down one early and sitting at two outs in the bottom of the second, sophomore designated player Lauren Esman — batting sixth in the order — strutted up to the plate. The fact that none of her teammates reached base yet didn’t seem to cross her mind as she looked to the mound, awaiting the pitch from Maryland’s Jennifer Brann. Esman swung on the 1-0 and ripped one deep into right field, getting her all the way to second.
Then, fifth-year outfielder Haley Hoogenraad took her turn. On the second pitch from Brann, Hoogenraad emulated her teammate and ripped a hit deep into center field that brought home Esman to tie the game. A wild pitch later, she even found herself at second.
And then came senior third-baseman Taylor Bump. On the first pitch Brann threw her way, Bump went yard. An absolute screamer past the center field fences brought home Hoogenraad and gave the Wolverines a 3-1 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I was really just trying to feel loose like in warmups,” Esman said when talking about what led to her 3-3 hitting performance tonight. “I’ve been really rigid lately, especially in the past couple of games, and in warm-ups that was definitely what I was focused on was. Just a loose swing and getting to extension.”
In a game where the top half of Michigan’s batting order had a hard time at the plate, the back provided more than enough offense to see the Wolverines to the finish line in the win over Maryland.
But for the back half to be so vital to Michigan’s success, it would follow that the top of the order struggled. Nothing exemplifies those struggles more than the snapping of junior outfielder Lexie Blair’s season-long hitting streak. The Wolverines’ lead-off hitter went 0-3.
But it wasn’t just her. The top five batters in Michigan’s order all went without hits on Friday night. And the back half — in order — Esman, Hoogenraad, Bump and freshman outfielder Sierra Kersten, combined went 7-for-11 with two home runs, four runs, four RBI and two doubles. Both Esman and Hoogenraad reached base in every at-bat.
“It’s really good to see us have the top of the order not hit, but yet we stream together some runs and have a lot of well-hit balls,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “The top order’s up there because they tend to be our most consistent and have our best averages, but they’re not always going to do it, so I was pleased with (the back of the order’s hitting).”
Some of the players that carried the Wolverines shouldn’t come as a surprise though. For example, Hoogenraad had another big performance in Michigan’s home opener on Wednesday, hitting an inside-the-park home run and scoring another time. If she and her other teammates at the back of the rotation can continue this production into the remainder of the weekend against the Terrapins, the Wolverines will be tough to beat.
The offense came from everywhere but the top on Friday night, yet Michigan still secured the win. It’ll hope that this performance was indicative of its depth going into the rest of the year, but there’s no way of knowing if that’s true.
Right now, the only thing it gave them was another tally in the win column. And they can’t be too mad about that.