Freshman pitcher Jordan Taylor had a 48.1 inning shutout streak entering the weekend.
But in the opening inning of her first appearance against Wisconsin on Friday, it snapped, and it seemed that Taylor was going through freshman growing pains.
She gave up the lead once, after Michigan held a 2-0 advantage in the first. She gave it away a second time. And then, she was pulled from the game at the end of the fourth.
Even though the Michigan softball team won that game, 12-4, with sophomore Nikki Nemitz in the circle, one had to wonder how Taylor would respond in her next start.
As it turns out, she was fine.
Facing Minnesota in the second game of a doubleheader Sunday at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, Taylor gave up just one hit in a 3-0 shutout.
Striking out 10 Golden Gophers, Taylor capped a 4-0 weekend for No. 6 Michigan, taking two each from Wisconsin, 7-2 and 12-4, and Minnesota, 5-0 and 3-0.
And Taylor started another scoreless inning streak, which now sits at seven.
“(Taylor) was back to her old self,” Nemitz said. “She was confident on the mound. She had control of her pitches and was attacking better. She did her job.”
With the weekend sweep and a Northwestern loss, Michigan reclaimed the top position in the Big Ten.
In each of those contests, the Wolverines (11-1 Big Ten, 38-4 overall) scored early and often. Scoring at least one run in their opening inning in each contest, they outscored their opponents a combined 12-2 in the first three innings of each game.
“We want to score as early as we can and set the tone early in the game,” Angela Findlay said. “But we also need to work on continuing on scoring runs throughout the game.”
Much of that can be accredited to the first four spots in the order, led by Alessandra Giampaolo. The senior co-captain went 8-for-13 from the leadoff spot and tallied four RBI on the weekend.
In Sunday’s second game against Minnesota (4-4, 21-12), she brought in two runs, one on a rightfield solo shot in the sixth to ensure victory.
But her most dominant performance came in game two of Friday’s doubleheader against the Badgers (2-10, 12-32), when she reached base safely in all five at-bats.
While she didn’t bring anybody home, she set up those who followed.
During Taylor’s troublesome game against the Badgers, Giampaolo loaded the bags with a walk with the score knotted in the sixth.
The next two batters, freshman Marley Powers and sophomore Angela Findlay, combined to clear the bases with a single and a double, respectively. And it all culminated with a three-run shot by Samantha Findlay at Goodman Diamond.
The Wolverines piled on three more in the seventh courtesy of an Angela Findlay homerun for the decisive win.
For the weekend, the top four in the order brought in 21 of Michigan’s 27 runs.
Getting early support from the offense, Michigan pitchers repaid the favor, especially sophomore Nikki Nemitz.
After struggling last week, Nemitz returned to her normal form, notching three victories for the weekend to improve her record to 18-2. In her 17 innings of work, Nemitz let up just one earned run and six hits.
“I didn’t have (that hesitance) this weekend,” Nemitz said. “I just trusted (the ball). If they hit it, they hit it. It’s softball. It’s going to happen.”
Strong outings by Nemitz and Taylor were essential in Michigan’s sweep in the Twin Cities. With the offense unable to provide the same explosion as it did in Madison, the pitchers kept Minnesota’s bats at bay. The duo prevented the Wolverines from falling behind the entire weekend.
But even with its lead in the conference, Hutchins emphasizes that it doesn’t mean much.
“Our kids just need to keep in front of them that they really haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Hutchins said.
Notes: While it didn’t affect Michigan in the win column, the weather dictated how the Wolverines played their games this weekend.
Anticipating inclement weather on Saturday, the two games spread out over two days turned into a Friday doubleheader. … Sophomore Molly Bausher saw limited action Friday, playing just four innings in each game of the doubleheader.