The last time the Michigan softball team played four consecutive contests against ranked opponents, it came out wounded with a 1-3 record.
Two years later at the same tournament – the Judi Garman Classic – No. 6 Michigan flipped the script going 3-1.
“We came out and showed that we’re a ranked team as well,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We belong where we belong. We’re definitely a top-10 program and I’m pleased with our performance.”
The lone blip came early when Michigan squared off with No. 19 Fresno State (30-5) on Thursday. The Bulldogs scored right away off freshman pitcher Jordan Taylor, who gave up her only three earned runs of the weekend.
But being down 6-1 after four innings proved too much for the Wolverines, as a spurt in the final innings was not enough to prevent a 6-5 loss. The defeat was their first in 16 games.
Michigan (25-3) rebounded the next day, putting down No. 7 Arizona (21-8). As it had in Louisville the previous weekend, the Wolverine offense resorted to late-inning heroics.
This time, it was sophomore Maggie Viefhaus in Michigan’s final at-bat. With one out and one on, the third baseman hit a home run off Women’s College World Series winner Taryne Mowitt to right-center field.
Sophomore Nikki Nemitz finished off the Wildcats, who batted .340 as a team before the weekend, in the top half of the seventh, sealing the 2-0 victory.
Solid pitching propelled the Wolverines to a 4-1 record for the tournament, including three shutouts for the weekend.
“We have a very tough 1-1 punch, as I like to call it, because I don’t feel that we have an ace,” Hutchins said. “We have two top, No. 1 pitchers. That’s what makes Michigan softball what it is.”
Just as Nemitz did the day before, Taylor registered her own 2-0, complete-game shutout against No. 25 San Diego State (27-10).
But unlike in the previous contest, the Wolverines didn’t have to wait long to get on the board. In the bottom of the second, freshman Dorian Shaw blasted a homer to left field. Taylor took care of the rest, allowing just one hit thereafter.
After some freshman growing pains Shaw had a much-improved .461 mark in Michigan’s four games against ranked teams.
But Viefhaus was the Wolverines’ best bat in the Classic. Tallying six RBIs and three runs, the Eureka, Mo., native played a part in Michigan’s first score in each of the contests.
“Maggie’s blossomed in her sophomore year,” Hutchins said. “She’s playing the type of softball she’s capable of. She’s a leader on the field for us both offensively and defensively.”
The Wolverines ended the weekend just as they started it – scoring seven runs. And while a 7-0 victory against UNLV (19-19-1) may not stand out, a 7-2 win over No. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette (20-8) does.
In the second meeting between the two teams this season, the Wolverines put forth a steady offensive effort, scoring in four different innings, the most this season. Michigan finished the weekend with an on-base percentage nearly 80 points higher than its ranked opponents. Doubling its top-25 opponents in runs produced over the weekend, it has solidified a spot in the top-10.
With a strong showing against some of the best teams in the nation, the young Wolverines are starting to figure out what they’re capable of as they enter the Big Ten season.
“These kids are starting to realize what it takes to be championship caliber,” Hutchins said. “As I told them this weekend, I borrowed a quote from Pat Summitt: ‘There’s a lot of teams that are good,’ and we’re certainly a good team, ‘but there are very few teams that are great.’ And our goal is to become a great team. And I thought this weekend we made steps toward that.”