Softball shows off depth, mercies Western Michigan

James Coller/Daily
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By Max Bultman, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 8, 2014

Though the lineup card coach Carol Hutchins submitted before Tuesday’s Michigan softball game was different than usual, the final score looked much the same.

The Wolverines (9-0 Big Ten, 30-6 overall) toppled Western Michigan, 8-0, in a mercy-rule victory that lasted just five innings. Junior right-hander Sara Driesenga started the game in the circle and pitched three no-hit innings before yielding to freshman right-hander Megan Betsa, who capped off the shutout.

Mercy-rule wins have become old hat for this Michigan team, which has ended 11 of its past 14 contests — all of them wins — by way of the run rule. What was impressive about Tuesday’s win, though, was the way the Wolverines’ scoring was spread out.

All nine starters earned a hit, and Michigan’s eight runs came from seven different players.

“I feel like we’ve got a lot of depth,” Hutchins said. “It was really good to get some kids in there like (sophomore second baseman) Kelsey Susalla, who just can’t get enough at-bats from me.”

Hutchins shuffled the lineup card before the game, giving starting nods to Susalla and freshman first baseman Kelly Christner. Also in the lineup was freshman third baseman Lindsay Montemarano, who has started 32 games this season, but taken just 52 at-bats.

All three were slotted at the bottom of the order, but none of them played like it.

Christner got on base in both of her plate appearances. Montemarano and Susalla each hit 1-for-3 and scored runs, while each flashed the leather on line drives early in the game.

Add in senior Caitlin Blanchard, who moved behind the plate Tuesday from her usual post at first base, and Michigan’s six-through-nine hitters batted 5-for-10 with three runs scored and a walk.

The top of the order did its share too, cranking out eight RBI and hitting .583 on the night.

“It doesn’t matter where people are at in the lineup,” Driesenga said. “There’s no weak spot. Everyone’s going to get it done no matter where they are.”

Michigan opened the game strong, using two RBI doubles from sophomore left fielder Sierra Lawrence and senior designated player Taylor Hasselbach to open up a 3-0 lead after the first.

Those three runs would have been plenty for the Wolverines, as Driesenga allowed only one baserunner in her three innings. Instead, Michigan continued to pour it on, loading the bases to start the second inning and tallying three more runs.

The Wolverines’ leadoff hitter, senior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle, came to bat in each of the first three innings — a sign that things were on their way to getting ugly at Alumni Field — as Michigan wore down Western Michigan in the eight-run onslaught.

The Broncos, though, inserted freshman Erin Binkowski to pitch the bottom of the fourth, and she ended the inning before any further damage could be done.

Still, the stellar pitching performances of the day belonged to Driesenga and Betsa who kept Western Michigan from contention by combining to allow only one hit on the night.

Mostly, though, both pitchers were just glad to get a game in during the middle of the week between series against Ohio State and Michigan State.

“It keeps my arm loose and gives me an opportunity to face batters other than ours,” Betsa said.

Added Driesenga: “You always want the ball and always want to be there getting better.”

Betsa and Driesenga have shored up some control issues recently, and both now appear to be pitching with more confidence. Between the two right-handers and junior lefty Haylie Wagner, the Wolverines have allowed only one run in their last five games.

That’s because right now, it doesn’t matter who Michigan is sending to the circle, or to the plate. The scoreboard looks just as lopsided every time.