The last time an opponent scored a run against the Michigan softball team was March 26. The red-hot Wolverines are riding the waves of a six-game shutout streak and a nine-game winning streak.
But waiting in the wings are two Big Ten opponents ready to bring those streaks to a halt. No. 12 Michigan squares off against Indiana (3-1 Big Ten, 18-3-1 overall) and Purdue (2-2, 22-18) this weekend at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor.
Who can the Wolverines (2-0, 22-9) thank for their string of shutouts?
They should probably start with the one-two punch on the mound, comprised of senior Jennie Ritter and junior Lorilyn Wilson.
“Our pitching staff is carrying a lot of the load right now,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
Ritter, who is now the all-time strikeout leader at Michigan, has been consistently impressive in recent games. The All-American notched 14 Ks in game one of Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep against Western Michigan and allowed just one hit.
Wilson’s turn to gobble up the Bronco batters came in game two of the doubleheader. She did her job with 10 strikeouts, surrendering just one hit. After a shaky start to her season, the Salem, Ore. native now sports a 9-4 record this season after a shaky start. She currently holds a five-game shutout streak.
If the Hoosiers or Boilermakers make contact, the Michigan defense will be waiting to meet them.
In Tuesday’s doubleheader, sophomore Samantha Findlay recorded 12 putouts. Senior Tiffany Haas had three at second. The Wolverines made just one error all day.
“The defense is doing great,” Haas said. “We’ve been consistent.”
The offense, however, lacked consistency. The Michigan bats blew the Minnesota pitching staff away in Sunday’s Big Ten opener, but they had trouble finding a way past Western on Tuesday. If not for eight Bronco errors, it may have been more difficult to get the Wolverines on the scoreboard.
But a promise of progress came in the final inning, when Michigan scored a quick four runs. Haas jump-started the late offensive surge by hammering a triple deep into rightfield, and sophomore centerfielder Alessandra Giampaolo followed with a single.
Team home-run leader Becky Marx polished off the inning with a blast to leftfield, her 10th homer of the season.
“Our offense continues to improve,” Hutchins said.
But strong pitching, defense and offense don’t mean the Wolverines can take it easy this weekend. Both Indiana and Purdue will be hungry to triumph over the defending national champions.
“We have our work cut out for us this weekend,” Hutchins said. “Both teams are out to beat anybody, and they’re very capable, Indiana in particular. They’ve come out and won a lot of good games. They’re playing good softball and they have a lot of confidence.”
The Hoosiers opened conference play last weekend with a 4-1 win over Ohio State. They also nabbed back-to-back 4-0 decisions over Penn State and currently trail Michigan by just one game in the conference standings. Michigan is tied with Northwestern for first.
“We better be fired up because Indiana is very capable of knocking us, and Purdue too,” Hutchins said.