For a Michigan softball team that has already showcased some formidable offensive talent, this weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic was all about flexing pitching muscles. The 15th-ranked Wolverines went 4-1 in the tournament despite scoring only one more run in five games (26) than they had last weekend (25) in four.
Eleven of those runs came on Friday in the second game of a doubleheader against Illinois State. Tied 8-8 in the top of the 10th inning, junior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield plated freshman outfielder Sierra Lawrence to give the Wolverines a one run lead. Freshman shortstop Sierra Romero – in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak – drove a 3-1 pitch out of the park to secure the 11-9 victory over the Redbirds.
“We definitely showed different aspects of our team,” said sophomore pitcher Sara Driesenga. “Whether things are going our way or not we just fight with the tools that are working that day. That’s what the Illinois State game was all about.”
Senior second baseman Ashley Lane went a career-high 5-for-6 against the Redbirds with a two-run home run. Lane is now in sole possession of sixth place on Michigan’s all-time home run list with 31.
“I was just seeing the ball really well this weekend,” Lane said. “On Saturday, I was able to clear my mind after a long week and to just see the ball, hit the ball. We were in a position to win, and so when you’re in a groove like that, you want to swing at every pitch in the game.”
Driesenga pitched all 17 innings in Friday’s doubleheader and set a career high with her 10 innings of work against Illinois State. The right hander also allowed only one run in the Wolverines’ first victory over a ranked opponent against No. 12 Louisiana-Lafayette earlier that day.
Despite her long outing on Friday, Driesenga was even more impressive in a second doubleheader against UC Davis and Hofstra. The sophomore allowed just one hit against UC Davis before senior pitcher Stephanie Speierman came on in relief to combine for a one-hit 6-0 shutout of the Aggies. Driesenga held off three base runners – off two errors and a hit-by-pitch – to earn her first career no-hitter against Hofstra.
“(A no-hitter) hasn’t really been on my mind in the past,” Driesenga said. “We go pitch-by-pitch and try to keep that same focus because we’re all about the win. I was just doing my part yesterday by contributing some scoreless innings.
“I actually didn’t know I had a no-hitter until after the game.”
The lone blemish for the Wolverines this weekend came in the top of the second inning on Sunday against DePaul. The Blue Demons put up four runs off of three hits and two Michigan errors to knock Driesenga off the mound for the game. Speierman pitched her own shutout from there on out, but just three runs by the normally explosive offense were not enough to capture a win.
In 30.1 innings pitched, Driesenga gave up just 23 hits and struck out 39 to finish the weekend with four wins. Meanwhile, Speierman held opponents to zero runs in 8.2 innings of relief.
“We’re going to have games like that, but we need to learn to push through a bad inning,” Speierman said. “Our pitching staff has been working extremely hard, and we have the potential to do a lot of great things this season.”