LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When the Jennie Ritter fastball turned into a routine ground ball to end the game, it capped a weekend that seemed just that — routine. Over the weekend, the No. 1 Michigan softball team continued on rampant tear over whoever stands in its way, winning the Louisville Classic in Louisville, Ky. in convincing fashion.
But the routine nature of the weekend didn’t excite Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, as she placed her emphasis elsewhere after the victory.
“My concern is that our kids feel like they have to win or have to be perfect,” she said.
“They’re such a good ball club — they just need to play and enjoy it and that will mean a lot.”
Michigan (31-1 overall) capped its impressive weekend with a dominant 7-0 victory over host Louisville (16-12) in the championship game. Junior Jennie Ritter went the distance, striking out nine while scattering four hits over the course of the seven innings. It was her eighth shutout of the year, improving her overall record to 14-0.
But it wasn’t just pitching that led the Wolverines to the win.
All nine members of the starting lineup reached base by the third inning — a sharp contrast to the measly three hits they managed against Louisville in pool play. The Wolverines put runs on the board in each of the first three innings, securing the lead in the protective hands of their pitching, which has been the team’s backbone all year long.
“The most significant thing is having baserunners,” Hutchins said. “Our team likes to hit it over the fence, but the most important part of our offense is having people on base.”
Knocking in her fair share of the baserunners was senior Jessica Merchant. The shortstop opened the game with a two-run home run and added an RBI single late in the game for her third RBI.
RBI singles by freshman Alessandra Giampaolo and junior Becky Marx in the second and third innings, respectively, added to the Wolverines’ lead. The last of Michigan’s scoring came in the sixth, as two Wolverines scored on errors following Merchant’s third RBI of the game.
The Wolverines also faced the Cardinals in their final game of pool play on Saturday afternoon. Freshman Samantha Findlay broke up Louisville pitcher Aja Sherman’s no-hitter in the fourth inning with a home run to right field. A Merchant RBI groundout in the sixth inning turned out to be the game winner, as the Cardinals cut the Michigan lead in half in the seventh. Coming in relief of sophomore Lorilyn Wilson, Ritter recorded the final two outs to collect her first save of the season. Wilson went six and one-third innings, allowing one run on six hits while improving her record to 12-0. The run Wilson allowed in the seventh was the first that she had allowed in 61 innings.
“The first game, Aja Sherman pitched very well against us,” Hutchins said. “I thought our swings were much too big, and I thought we did a better job in the second game making good contact.”
Michigan defeated Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State the opening day of the tournament. Two Merchant solo home runs were the difference against Western Kentucky, as Ritter threw a two-hit shutout to give Michigan a 2-0 win. But the bats that were quiet against Western Kentucky came alive against Middle Tennessee State. The Wolverines prevailed by a 17-1 margin, ending the game in five innings.
Michigan followed a four-run first inning with a nine-run second. Findlay and Marx each had four RBI, while Merchant and senior Nicole Motycka each added two. Motycka also picked up the win, going all five innings to improve her record to 5-1.
The Wolverines face one final tune up before their home and Big Ten opener. They travel to Bowling Green on Wednesday before Iowa comes to town this weekend.