It’s tough for a softball team to beat an opponent twice. A team needs its strength to shine to capture three times. Four wins takes production on both sides of the ball.
Despite that, No. 25 Michigan (13-3 Big Ten) swept Indiana (7-9) in a four-game away series this weekend, capitalizing on an offensive upturn and shutting down the Hoosiers’ energetic offense. Indiana hung with Michigan before late struggles in the first two games, but the Wolverines led the rest of the series handily.
At first, Michigan struggled to take advantage of scoring opportunities. After junior outfielder Lexie Blair and sophomore infielder Julia Jimenez got on base for the first two at-bats of the weekend, two strikeouts and a groundout sent the Wolverines to the dugout empty-handed.
Indiana pressed for runs by getting walks and hits from senior lefthander Meghan Beaubien. After a pep talk from junior catcher Hannah Carson and a mound visit by Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, Beaubien seemed to get back to her normal performance and gave Indiana little room to breathe.
The game turned into a 1-1 stalemate until Michigan’s bats went into overdrive, producing six runs to start the seventh inning. Indiana attempted to rally, getting on base and threatening to score. Junior righthander Alex Storako took over the bump from Beaubien with the bases loaded, drawing a well-read liner to end the game up, 7-1.
Michigan escaped unscathed by preventing Indiana’s steal-heavy small ball from taking hold. Whenever Indiana would get a chance to score, the Wolverines gave them nothing to play with through strikeouts and grounders.
“Indiana’s game is to find a spot they can attack whether it’s a short game, slapping game, running game,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “And we were able to shut them down in all those categories. … I think our defense is the biggest reason we won the game.”
Michigan’s fielding flexed its strengths in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader. After Indiana infielder Grayson Radcliffe hit a solo home run in the fourth inning, Michigan’s infield seemed to gobble up any hits the Hoosiers could manage. Senior third baseman Taylor Bump played a key role in that, getting under a pair of bunts and shifting momentum toward Michigan.
The Wolverines’ offense bucked against Indiana all game, and Carson responded with her own solo shot to start the sixth inning. Through much of the game, however, the Wolverines couldn’t bring anyone home. That changed in the ninth inning after senior infielder Natalia Rodriguez hit a double through a gap in centerfield. The Michigan offense woke up and took a 3-1 lead that would be the game’s final score.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Michigan found the spark it needed on offense: an almost complete change of the batting order. After a quiet first inning left Blair stranded on third, a second-inning Jimenez homer gave the Wolverines two runs. Indiana put righthander Macy Montgomery on the mound, but Michigan continued the onslaught by putting its next five batters on base.
While the Michigan offense looked lethal, defense became a standout for the Wolverines as Carson managed the game from behind the plate. She limited the ability for Indiana to steal bases, something they lead the Big Ten at with 52 steals on 63 attempts, although the Hoosiers still stole nine times in the series.
“(Indiana was) scrappy,” Bump said. “They made us work for a lot of our outs, and I think we have a lot of confidence in our defense.”
Beaubien struck out just eight batters in the game — a low total considering she’s second for strikeouts in the conference. Instead of finishing things at the plate, outfield snags and infield positioning held Michigan’s lead throughout the game. After trading runs between the sixth and seventh innings, Michigan swept the doubleheader with an 8-1 win.
Sunday afternoon saw Michigan’s offensive turnaround keep scoring. Blair sent the second pitch of the game over the fence to give the Wolverines an early lead, but a double play and a strikeout ended the inning.
In what seemed like déjà vu of Blair’s earlier at-bat, Carson hit another Michigan home run to start the third inning. The offense fell off toward the middle of the game until freshman infielder Sierra Kersten hit an RBI double to extend the lead.
Indiana didn’t challenge for a run until the bottom of the seventh, when freshman infielder Brooke Benson bounced a hit off the outfield wall. Her three-bag effort would be in vain as Michigan didn’t allow her to come home. The Wolverines won the game, 4-0.
This weekend showed that Michigan can hit well, something that seemed questionable just two weeks ago. In the end, fielding and pitching gave the Wolverines an edge that Indiana couldn’t overcome.
A four-game road sweep against Indiana meant Michigan needed to step up on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines did that to leave Bloomington victorious.