MADISON — Where No. 1 Michigan (7-1 Big Ten, 40-3 overall) rebounded with solid defense in its 8-0 victory over Wisconsin (3-5, 12-17) on Saturday, Friday night’s eight-inning 3-2 win was more like a comedy of errors.
“Defense wins ball games for us, and that was the difference between (Friday) and (Saturday),” senior shortstop Jessica Merchant said. “(Friday) we had three errors, (Saturday) we had none. We can’t give them extra opportunities. Four outs an inning doesn’t work for us. Keep it to three outs an inning and things go well for us.”
The first of those three errors on Friday helped Wisconsin jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. After striking out the Badgers’ first two hitters, junior pitcher Jennie Ritter was on pace to make it a 1-2-3 inning when she got Kris Zacher — one of two dangerous Wisconsin batters — to hit a groundball toward second base. But the grounder slipped through junior second baseman Tiffany Haas’s glove as she attempted to field it on the backhand side.
With Zacher on first, Wisconsin catcher Boo Gillette — the Badgers’ other hitting threat — came to the plate and blasted a two-run home run over the leftfield fence.
The Wolverines continued to struggle in the field throughout the game with additional errors by Merchant and freshman first baseman Samantha Findlay. Findlay couldn’t corral a high throw from Merchant in the fifth, and Merchant pulled up too early on a ground ball in the sixth. Despite the poor fielding, neither of the errors led to Badger runs.
The Wolverines’ defensive struggles have been a recurring problem — they committed five errors in two games against Central Michigan on Wednesday.
“It’s been kind of a crazy week; there have been too many errors,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “That is absolutely unacceptable.”
The team was clearly aware of the problem and took measures to correct the problem before Saturday’s game.
“They were getting away from their fundamentals,” Hutchins said. “We practiced it and had (Merchant and Haas) play shorter. They were worried about some of the bad hops they were getting. The bad hops weren’t my concern. The routine balls were my concern. They played much better (on Saturday), and that’s really important.”
Michigan has relied on solid pitching and potent offense to get wins this season but didn’t look like the nation’s top team on Friday night.
“We know we can score runs, period,” Hutchins said. “We just need to do a good job of making our defense show up. It starts on the mound, and we have a good chance to win.”
For a team that has national championship aspirations and has struggled defensively in Women’s College World Series past, such poor fielding has to be worrisome. That is, until the Wolverines bounced back with a near flawless performance in the field on Saturday.
“We definitely played much better (Saturday) than (Friday), pulling through with the defense,” Findlay said. “Our defense was awesome today.”