Down a run after the top of the first inning, the Michigan softball team needed a big bat in the worst way.
Junior third baseman Amanda Chidester was the perfect culprit to ignite a Wolverine rally after a disappointing loss to Indiana. Little did anyone know, she would set the visiting Boilermakers into flames in the first game of the weekend series.
In Saturday’s 13-1 thrashing of Purdue, Michigan (5-1 Big Ten, 35-3 overall), and particularly Chidester, gave the Boilermakers all they could handle. Her seven RBIs propelled the Wolverines, and knocked off Purdue — the only undefeated team in Big Ten play prior to the weekend.
The performance by Chidester was accentuated by a first-inning grand slam — her second in five games — seizing the lead back for Michigan as quickly as it had been taken. And the lead was not one that would be relinquished, as the offensive explosion continued before the mercy rule brought an end to the game in the fifth inning.
Chidester, however, doesn’t approach her chances with the bases loaded any different than a normal opportunity.
“It’s just like any other at-bat,” Chidester said.
Unfortunately for Boilermaker starting pitcher Suzie Rzegocki, Chidester was far from satisfied. When she came up to bat with two runners on in the third inning, she dialed in on a 1-1 pitch that landed in the Purdue bullpen. Rzegocki’s pitches looked especially fat to Chidester, who is slugging this season at a rate only topped by senior first-baseman Dorian Shaw.
Batting Chidester in the cleanup spot, right behind Shaw, presents quite the dilemma for opposing pitchers. The allure of letting Shaw take first base for free can be strong. But Chidester is slowly catching up to Shaw’s season home run total and already leads Shaw in RBI.
“All year, I hit behind one of the best hitters in the country (in Shaw) and I know that she’s going to be getting walked because she is so well-respected,” Chidester said. “In the beginning of the year, I struggled a little bit with that coming up when she gets walked so it was something that I had to get better at. I’ve just got to keep it going and have fun and relax.”
Meanwhile, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins enjoys the situations when there is no empty base for the batter, no matter whom it may be.
“I just like the fact that we get the bases loaded,” Hutchins said. “We put (Chidester) behind (Shaw) because we feel that if they pitch around (Shaw) then they’ve got to pitch to Chidester. It doesn’t always work, but she’s doing a good job for us.”
What No. 4 Michigan has in Chidester is a slugger who can change the game with a single swing. It remains to be seen if any conference pitching staffs will be able to retire Chidester on a consistent basis, but it’s entirely possible that preventing games like Saturday’s will be the top priority.
The way Chidester is currently seeing the ball, she has the potential to contend with Shaw for Michigan’s Offensive MVP and, with any luck, the conference batting crown as well.