- Luna Anna Archey/Daily
By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 6, 2014
In Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins’ 500th conference win on Sunday, junior right-hander Sara Driesenga led the Wolverines into hot water early.
In the first half of the Wolverines’ double-header against Ohio State (5-4 Big Ten, 17-18 overall), the junior sacrificed a double to the leadoff hitter. She struck out the two following batters, but ended up walking the Buckeyes’ next two to load the bases. Michigan (9-0, 29-6) escaped potential disaster when a grounder to senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard ended the top of the first inning.
That was the biggest threat the Wolverines faced all weekend, eventually shutting out Ohio State 10-0 in the first game and allowing only one run in the next game in a 9-1 win.
“I felt good just warming up,” Driesenga said. “That first inning, they loaded the bases up, but even during that, I had a couple of strikeouts. I just needed to come back.”
But Driesenga was just getting started. She collected six strikeouts over the course of the game in the Wolverines’ shutout.
Hutchins claims her team’s hitting is contagious, and that runs always come in bunches. That proved to be true at Alumni Field in the bottom of the fourth. The game was scoreless until sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero hit a solo homer to left field. Later that inning, senior designated hitter Taylor Hasselbach hit a two-run home run and suddenly the Wolverines had the momentum they needed.
“It was one of those things where we needed one person to hit it hard and we had that happen, and hitting is contagious,” Hasselbach said.
The next inning, Driesenga pitched a quick 1-2-3 frame for Michigan to lead into the bottom of the fifth, when things really started to pick up.
Senior outfielder Lyndsay Doyle reached home plate off a sacrifice fly before senior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield and Romero ran home later in the inning.
The Buckeyes quickly took out right-hander Olivia O’Reilly and put in Kasie Kelly to pitch, hoping to salvage the inning before it was too late.
But Kelly couldn’t stop the Wolverines either, and junior catcher Lauren Sweet hit a grand slam to end the game in the bottom of the fifth for a 10-0 mercy-rule victory.
Two freshman pitchers faced off against each other in the back half of the double-header. Freshman right-hander Megan Betsa and Ohio State’s Shelby Hursh both earned no-hitters earlier this season — Betsa last Wednesday against Detroit, and Hursh against Utah Valley in February.
The Wolverines easily dominated the second game as well, in which Betsa threw 10 strikeouts in the following innings. The Buckeyes saved themselves from being shut out for the entire weekend when Cammi Prantl, who reached first base when Betsa hit her, scored later in the inning. Betsa struck out the next two batters to end the second.
Sweet responded to Ohio State’s one-run lead by hitting a homer to right center. The bats came alive once more, as Doyle and freshman second baseman Abby Ramirez both reached home.
In the bottom of the sixth, the mercy rule was enacted again when eight more Wolverines crossed home plate. Hasselbach hit a grand slam — her third homer of the weekend — to bring in four of those runs.
The senior, who became a regular starter in the past few weeks, had eight RBI on Saturday.
“I was just a little more aggressive today,” Hasselbach said. “Usually when I succeed, I swing at the first pitch, second pitch. I was just aggressive today and it worked out in my favor.”
After Hasselbach struck out in each of her three at-bats Saturday, it gave her a vote of confidence when Hutchins put her in again Sunday.
“Yesterday, she looked like the old Taylor,” Hutchins said. “She struck out three times, not seeing the ball, not really swinging to hit it. I was really pleased to see her pull herself out of it … She needs to know that I believe in her and she’s been getting it done for us.”
Michigan didn’t rely on any one player to carry it to its series sweep of Ohio State. In front of its home crowd, the Wolverines relied on grand slams and pitching, outscoring the Buckeyes 20-1 over the weekend.