The Michigan softball team found its groove. Again.
In a season that has seen the offense as both a dominant force and a weakness, it’s hard to guess which Wolverine team will show up on any given day.
So when Michigan (12-1 Big Ten, 30-11 overall) took the field at Michigan State (0-12, 11-30) on Saturday in the first of a three-game series, it was anybody’s game.
Except it wasn’t.
The 20th-ranked Wolverines started slow, but after an eight-run fifth inning, the game ended with the mercy rule and an 8-0 Michigan victory.
“I thought (that in) the first four-and-a-half innings we looked just like Wednesday” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins on Saturday, referencing the team’s 1-0 loss to Western Michigan earlier in the week. “We’re not commanding (the) zone and it really looks like we’re not focusing. It took us until we got a couple runs on the board (in the fifth) to get a little bit of confidence and a little momentum going, and then we took some really healthy cuts.”
Their momentum carried over to Sunday, when they played a rain-delayed double header at home and won 2-0 and 5-0.
“We should talk about the zeros,” Hutchins said. “That’s a big deal to shut them out three times in a row.”
The second game on Sunday took a strange turn in the second inning. Freshman catcher Lauren Sweet hit an RBI double to left center, but Hutchins made a mistake with the numbers in the lineup on the scorecard, negating the run and ending the inning.
After the situation was sorted out, Michigan took the field and quickly got three batters out, but it wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth inning that its offense started to mesh again. With two outs and runners on second and third, junior shortstop Amy Knapp hit an RBI single that sent two runners home.
The offense took control in the sixth inning, when freshman right-hander Sara Driesenga hit a solo home run and Sweet hit a two-run home run.
The story of the game, however, was freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner on the mound. She pitched a two-hitter while striking out five. The most impressive aspect of her day was the efficiency of her pitches — in seven innings she just threw 68 pitches.
“My spins were working, all my mechanics were working,” Wagner said. “It’s just something that I’ve been working on in the last week, (and) I just want to jump back up where I know I can be.”
Added Hutchins: “Pitching has to hold them. And they did. It was really the key to the weekend.”
In Sunday’s first game, the offense started quickly after junior second baseman Ashley Lane notched her 28th RBI of the season, sending sophomore right fielder Lyndsay Doyle home with a single. In addition, senior first baseman Amanda Chidester went 3-for-4 to lead the team that had nine total hits.
Meanwhile, on the mound, Driesenga allowed six hits, struck out two and managed to get out of tight situations when the Spartans were in scoring position. Driesenga also contributed at the plate by going 2-for-3 with an RBI.
“Sara’s been hitting since the first home game of the year, and she has given me no reason to think any different,” Hutchins said. “She’s done a great job. She got the bunts down, and she bombs it over the fence.”
Saturday’s game was dedicated to moving past Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Western Michigan, and the Wolverines did just that.
After going nine innings without getting a runner to third base, the Wolverines broke through in the third inning and never looked back, getting 11 batters to third base in total.
“We talked a lot on Thursday, and I just said, ‘Look, these are the things we did in the game (Wednesday), and we don’t do those in practice,’ ” Hutchins said. “I reminded them of that today before the fifth inning. I said, ‘Look, you don’t swing at some of this stuff at practice. Be up on the plate more, be up in front, and obviously that turned our offense around. ”
Getting the Wolverines started on Saturday, senior center fielder Bree Evans had the first two hits of the day. The first score came from a double by Wagner that sent two runners home. It was Wagner’s first at bat since March 16 and her first hit since March 3.
“(Wagner’s) been hitting the heck out of the ball, and she’s a good hitter,” Hutchins said. “I expect she’ll be in our lineup. She hasn’t been recently, but she’s going to be a hitter for us.”