This week, the No. 2 Michigan softball team upheld a tradition of beating up on in-state competition that’s lasted since the 1980s.
With Tuesday evening’s 9-1 mercy-rule victory over Western Michigan (6-12 MAC, 11-23 overall), the Wolverines moved to a 41-8-1 all-time record against the Broncos.
And with Wednesday’s 11-1 win over Eastern Michigan (6-12, 17-29), they now possess a 53-8 all-time record against the Eagles.
Freshman pitcher Stephanie Speierman got the nod for her second and third starts of the season.
On Tuesday, she tossed three innings of one-run ball, giving up two hits and four walks. With a 3-1 lead halfway through the game, the score was closer than Michigan coach Carol Hutchins had hoped, and she replaced Speierman on the mound with senior hurler Nikki Nemitz.
“It was really (pitching coach Jennifer Brundage’s) call,” Hutchins said. “She just felt ‘Spidey’ wasn’t able to get ahead. We had too many walks. We had four walks in the first two innings. And I just think she didn’t really have her best stuff.”
Wednesday was more or less the same story, as Speierman exited after 2.2 innings, giving up one run on four hits and two walks before handing the ball off to Nemitz once again.
Nemitz pitched phenomenally in relief over the two games — she struck out 11 over 5.1 innings of work, only surrendering one hit.
The small crowd at Wednesday’s matchup also witnessed a significant addition to Michigan’s lineup, as sophomore shortstop Stephanie Kirkpatrick returned to the eight spot for the first time since April 8 at Indiana, when she suffered a meniscus tear trying to beat out a ground ball.
Kirkpatrick’s absence had been the only glaring weakness in the lineup over the last month. Her spot at short had been occupied by the everyday centerfielder Molly Bausher, while the usual leftfielder Bree Evans moved to center and senior outfielder Kristin Larsen came off the bench to take over left field duties.
Larsen is batting .152 on the season — the next lowest average belongs to sophomore second baseman Amanda Chidester, who’s batting more than 100 points higher at .261. Needless to say, Kirkpatrick’s .321 average was a welcomed upgrade as the team approaches the end of Big Ten play and the start of the postseason.
But Kirkpatrick’s return didn’t go as smoothly as she would have hoped, as she grounded into a 1-6-3 double play to ice a first-inning rally.
“Honestly, thinking back at it, all I could think was that the first pitch went by, and it looked so fast because it was the first live at bat I had had in about a month or so,” Kirkpatrick said. “I hit the second one — couldn’t tell you where the pitch was. I have no idea. I just swung. And it was good just to get a cut and get it in play.”
The rest of the lineup was firing on all cylinders over the two games, as the Wolverines (14-1 Big Ten, 42-6 overal) combined for 20 runs on 16 hits against the two in-state foes.
Entering Tuesday’s matchup, senior third baseman Maggie Viefhaus and junior first baseman Dorian Shaw each shared the team’s home run lead with 15. Against the Broncos, Viefhaus hit a two-run shot in the fifth, and Shaw followed it with a solo blast in the sixth. Against the Eagles, Shaw struck first with a grand slam in the opening frame, and Viefhaus hit a grand slam of her own two innings later.
“I think it’s fun. And she was like, ‘What is this? Like Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa?’” Shaw said. “We did say at the beginning of the season that we wanted to hit 50 home runs (combined), and we’re getting close.”