Wolverines post six-spot in fourth, claim victory

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By Kevin Santo, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 25, 2015

The Michigan softball team was left with nothing to show for three baserunners through three innings.

But Michigan sophomore left fielder Kelly Christner and freshman first baseman Tera Blanco changed that, starting the bottom of fourth inning with a bang. After three innings of struggling at the plate, the two Wolverines went yard to capture the first lead of the game.

And after the fourth inning strike Wednesday at Alumni Field, Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 29-4 overall) never looked back in its 8-2 victory over Western Michigan.

The Broncos (6-14) started with right-hander Erin Binkowski in the circle, and though she put forth a valiant effort through three innings, the Wolverines eventually caught up to her.

In the fourth inning, Christner sent her home run flying to the right-field bleachers, and Blanco tore the stitching off a full-count pitch, sending it over the center-field wall into Ray Fisher Stadium. Michigan proceeded to bat through the order, scoring four more runs and forcing two pitching changes in the process.

“We were trying too hard to do too much with the pitching,” Christner said. “Whenever it’s not as quick as we’ve been seeing (against other teams and our own pitchers), we have to be more patient, looser and let it come to us. And that’s what we started doing in the fourth.”

The four-run onslaught featured two more RBI for Christner, one for freshman third baseman Taylor Swearingen and another for senior left-hander Haylie Wagner.

Blanco credited Wagner’s reassuring performance on the defensive end for catalyzing the Wolverines’ confidence and motivation at the plate in the fourth. Wagner dealt from the circle, recording seven strikeouts and allowing only one hit to Western Michigan through five innings.

“I was just really working my ladder,” Wagner said. “And that’s just making them bite and chase the (pitches) off the plate. I was trying to move the ball and spin it.”

Her only setback came in the top of the sixth inning, when the Broncos showed promise against Michigan’s ace.

Pinch-hitter Aspen Williams drew a walk on Wagner to begin the frame. Left fielder Ivy Schaaf then connected, sending the ball soaring down the third-base line to record Western Michigan’s first run. The Broncos’ second run came off a two-out RBI single from second baseman Melissa Palmer.

But Wagner quickly recovered to force a pop fly and end the inning.

Junior center fielder Sierra Lawrence further relieved the pressure, roping a two-run homer over the right-field wall in the bottom of the sixth inning, padding the Wolverines’ lead.

Wagner went on to strike out the side in the seventh, solidifying her complete game. She posted a season-high 10 strikeouts and allowed just four hits in her seven-inning outing.

“She pitched well,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She had a number of pop-ups (to the circle) because her curveball jammed them up. I’m going to guess that the pitches they hit to the fence were over the plate. Sometimes that curve ball on righties doesn’t get in on them, and when it doesn’t, it’s dangerous.”

Blanco’s home-run ball may be staying in the outfield of Ray Fisher Stadium for the night, but Michigan made sure that was the only remembrance of Western Michigan left behind in Ann Arbor after the first three innings.