For a moment, this weekend looked like it would be more of the same. With only one run through six innings, the Michigan softball team looked to be on track for yet another low-scoring affair in their first game of the weekend.
Then, everything changed.
A triple into the right-center field from senior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez sent two runners home, giving the Wolverines a 3-1 advantage. Then, junior outfielder Lexie Blair picked up where Rodriguez left off and sent a double screaming into left-center field, which brought home the seventh-inning spark Rodriguez lit. Michigan finished the inning with three more runs and capped off a 7-1 victory in the series’ opening game.
That seventh inning ended up setting the tone for the weekend in the 25th-ranked Wolverines’ (13-3 Big Ten) sweep of Indiana (7-9 Big Ten). Offense came more freely than in any series prior, and Michigan got four tough wins against a scrappy Hoosiers team because of it.
“Well, I would definitely say we are upward trending in offense,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “And I think we still need to continue to move forward. But I think more than anything, every game was tough. Even the 7-1 game the first night was a 1-1 game going into the seventh.”
This offensive surge shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Combining Indiana’s error-prone defense and Michigan’s recent 8-0 mercy-rule victory over Wisconsin, foresight told us that performances of this caliber were possible this weekend, even in the face of a tough opponent.
But momentum and a favorable matchup can only go so far, and the Wolverines needed strong performances from their lineup if they wanted to capitalize on the opportunity presented to them.
And they sure got them.
Blair extended her season-long hitting streak while also adding four runs — one in each of the games — and three RBI. Rodriguez had four runs and three RBI. Junior catcher Hannah Carson had a big weekend at the plate too, hitting two home runs while adding four runs and RBI.
“I think we were productive because we just went into every at-bat, not caring what the count was, not caring where the runners were,” Carson said. “Just trusting ourselves and trusting our eyes to see the ball. We just trusted ourselves and had confidence. I don’t think we really cared what situation it was. We just went up there to swing hard.”
While fruitful, the weekend was still not all smooth sailing on the offensive side of the dish. Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a weakness for Michigan all season, and while its performance improved, the problem still showed against the Hoosiers. The Wolverines ended the weekend batting 17-53 with a runner in scoring position, and while that’s a strong showing by the team’s standards, they were still pretty inconsistent in those scenarios.
In its 3-1 victory over Indiana on Saturday afternoon, Michigan batted 0.188 with runners in scoring position, which was a decrease of more than 0.100 compared to its overall hitting percentage for the game. So, while the Wolverines’ season-long problem only cost them a chance at a larger margin of victory, it’ll remain something to watch as the season progresses.
Still, it’s hard to overstate how much better Michigan was on offense over the weekend. A feeling of confidence permeated from the dugout, and on each successive trip to the plate, that feeling only increased. It’s something that hasn’t really shown up yet in the Wolverines’ young season, something that they need if they want to look back on this season fondly.
In the series, Michigan scored a total of 22 runs. That’s a better total than any four-game stretch in the season thus far. But whether this weekend was a sign of things to come or merely an aberration is yet to be seen.
“Once again, hitting becomes contagious,” Hutchins said. “We know we get a couple of hits … the pressure’s off and then we hit freely and we can swing, so I think to come down here and take all four games, that’s big.”