- James Coller/Daily
By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 30, 2014
Michigan played 16 innings of near-perfect softball this weekend, followed by one that was just OK.
But it turned out that one poor inning couldn’t put a dent in the domination the Wolverines (6-0 Big Ten, 25-6 overall) asserted all weekend.
Three strong pitching performances and an offense that cracked out five five-run innings earned Michigan three blowout wins — 6-0, 22-0 and 12-4, the last two in five innings — this weekend at Penn State (0-6, 6-21).
The key to the series against the Nittany Lions wasn’t the power punch that knocked six balls out of the park last weekend against Indiana. Rather, it was a consistent lineup that piled up base runners, led by senior outfielders Lyndsay Doyle and Nicole Sappingfield at the top.
“That’s their job — that’s the role they play for us,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Their job is to set the table. … I thought they did an outstanding job.”
The pair combined to hit 15-for-23 with 12 runs, three times Penn State’s output for the weekend. That set the table for sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero, giving the Nittany Lions no place to put Michigan’s elite slugger.
“Any time either (Sappingfield) or I get on base, I think that just sparks our offense totally,” Doyle said. “It’s such a game changer when the leadoff batter gets on, and it just pumps up the team.”
Romero was walked only once and ended the weekend 6-for-11. Twenty of the 27 Wolverines who started in the batting lineup finished with a hit, including junior right-hander Sara Driesenga, who tied Penn State’s weekend score by herself with a grand slam in the second game.
Still, just six of the 39 hits Michigan cranked out went for extra bases. The Wolverines instead fed off of 12 walks and five errors to get around the bases.
Hutchins got nearly everyone into action, with seldom-used senior outfielders Katie Luetkens and Brandi Virgil each hitting their first home runs of the season. Every time Michigan put the ball in play, it seemed to amount to something.
“Not every batter needs to go up there swinging for the fences — we just need to make good contact,” Doyle said. “Our goal is to get one base at a time and just keep stringing those along.”
Penn State, on the other hand, struggled to muster anything. Junior left-hander Haylie Wagner held the Nittany Lions without a base runner in the first game until a seventh-inning, one-out walk. She lost the no-hitter to a single by the next batter.
“I didn’t realize until after it was broken up and somebody said something to me,” Wagner said.
But Wagner had another chance at a no-hitter the next day, heading into the fifth inning with a 12-0 lead. With weather threatening, Hutchins said Wagner may have been trying to end the game quickly rather than have it postponed until Sunday.
Still, after two strikeouts, a walk and a hit batter, Wagner was one out away from finishing off a five-inning no-hitter and leaving Penn State scoreless on the weekend. The Nittany Lions, however, showed signs of life, stringing together three two-out hits and four runs.
“I don’t make too much of it,” Hutchins said. “She pitched very well all weekend and had one bad inning.”
Junior right-hander Sara Driesenga then relieved Wagner and got the final out, securing the five-inning victory. With her performance, Wagner moved to 17-0 in 19 appearances with a 1.00 earned-run average.
Driesenga also pitched the second game, the most lopsided of all of them.
Michigan tallied at least four runs in all five innings and garnered 16 hits and seven walks.
The Wolverines didn’t let up when their lead was in double digits. To the contrary, Hutchins thought they hit better with the lead.
“What can often happen is when it’s a tight game and if we’re going up and down the order and no one’s hitting, people start feeling the pressure,” Hutchins said. “Likewise, when people in front of you and behind you are hitting, it takes the pressure off you, and it’s a lot easier to hit with no perceived pressure.”
Michigan managed just six runs in the series opener, but the game never got close because Wagner was nearly perfect.
“We really weren’t relentless in that game,” Hutchins said. “But we pitched well and held up our lead.”
The bats came alive later that night, and Wagner and Driesenga took care of the rest.