Purdue senior hurler Suzie Rzegocki — arguably the best pitcher in program history — stood in the pitcher’s circle, hands on her hips, left without an answer.
The No. 4 Michigan softball team (5-1 Big Ten, 35-3 overall) manhandled the Boilermakers (2-2, 24-10-1) in this weekend’s two-game series, taking the first contest 13-1 and the second 10-0, both in five innings.
Rzegocki started both games, allowing 11 earned runs in the first and five in the second before finally being put out of her misery after 2.1 innings. Despite being the unquestioned ace on a Purdue squad that entered the weekend atop the Big Ten standings, she left with her confidence shattered.
“The wins do a lot (for our confidence),” junior third baseman Amanda Chidester said. “Especially because we haven’t been hitting really well and that’s what we did this weekend.
“We came out and just hit the crap out of the ball.”
Michigan came to the plate for just eight innings in two games — both ending after four and a half innings due to the mercy rule — and scored at least one run in all eight innings.
Everyone joined the hit parade for the Wolverines, who knocked four home runs in the first game and two in the second.
Purdue started the series strong, getting three straight hits off Wolverine senior Jordan Taylor. But the former All-American settled down, allowing just one run to cross the plate.
After that, it was all Michigan, all weekend.
The Wolverines went on a tear in the bottom of the first, scoring six runs in the frame. The explosion was highlighted by Chidester’s grand slam to deep left field, a mammoth blast that sent riled-up young fans deep into the Schembechler Hall parking lot to retrieve the ball.
Rzegocki pitched around senior first baseman Dorian Shaw, walking her to bring up Chidester — a common theme this season — and yet again, Chidester made the opposing pitcher pay. It was her seventh homer of the season and her second grand slam.
Michigan added two runs in the second, four in the third and one in the fourth. Chidester homered again in the third and sophomores second baseman Ashley Lane and shortstop Amy Knapp added blasts of their own.
Taylor went five strong, allowing just four hits and one run and striking out eight. Despite the first-game rout, the Wolverines had to return to the field less than 24 hours later to avoid a letdown.
“We played Purdue in 2006, I believe, and we beat them 15-0. We just killed them,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “And the next day, we lost. Every day is different so you’ve got to stay even-keeled and we work really hard for that.”
And in a strange occurrence, the thermometer topped 80-degrees for Sunday’s game, though Michigan’s bats were even hotter than the 1,361 sweating fans that packed Alumni Field.
“It’s softball season at its best,” Hutchins said.
Shaw got the Wolverines started with an RBI-double in the first, and that was all they needed. Michigan ended the first inning up 2-0, adding three more runs in the second and a towering shot to left-center by senior designated hitter Alycia Ryan, which gave the team a 6-0 lead.
A three-run shot by Lane — her team-leading 13th — capped off the scoring with Michigan leading 10-0.
Sophomore right-hander Stephanie Speierman started strong, but after running into trouble in the fourth inning, she was pulled for Taylor. As usual, Taylor got the team out of trouble with two on and one out, not allowing the Boilermakers to tack on a run.
Speierman finished her day allowing just one hit, but her four walks didn’t please Hutchins.
“I pulled (Speierman) out because she wasn’t finding the strike zone and I went out and chatted with her and I didn’t see any change,” Hutchins said. “You know, three walks in a row is not acceptable.
“She had only given up one hit, but they’re getting free bases and a wild pitch … and you know what, at some point we determine whether or not we think she has it left, and we didn’t think she had it left, so I pulled her.”
Still, Speierman got the win and improved to a perfect 16-0 on the season.
Taylor pitched 1.2 innings of one-hit ball to finish the game, as the Wolverines moved into a first-place tie with Illinois in the Big Ten standings.
“Well, first place is only at the end of the season,” Hutchins said. “During the course of the season, that’s a bunch of garbage. They’re a good team and we certainly didn’t help their confidence.
“But I tell my kids, you don’t get too high and you don’t get too low. You get too high on yourselves and somebody will bust your bubble. We’re working towards May.”