With Western Michigan visiting Ann Arbor for a Tuesday evening non-conference showdown, the No. 2 Michigan softball team wasn’t exactly bursting with excitement.
But the Wolverines (5-1 Big Ten, 36-3) avoided a letdown, jumping on the Broncos from the beginning to earn an easy 6-1 victory.
“I told them before the game, ‘Don’t play the opponent,’ because the mid-week game against non-rivals is just harder,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said Tuesday.
“But just play with your Michigan pride and your passion, and I thought we did a pretty good job with it today because I’ve seen our energy be better but I’ve seen it be a lot worse.”
Sophomore right-hander Stephanie Speierman (17-0) got the win pitching five strong innings, giving up just four hits and a walk. The sole run she allowed was unearned.
“I came out, just working on getting better,” Speierman said. “That’s the goal the whole season, to be the best at the end of the season … There were moments where I was a little bit wild, and I was able to recognize that I’m not that focused on this one pitch, and I think I was able to do a good job getting back to that one-pitch focus.”
Michigan’s best hitting performance came from the bat of freshman left fielder Nicole Sappingfield, who went 3-for-4 while scoring a run and tallying two RBI.
“I just think that everything just kind of started to work,” Sappingfield said. “I practiced my hitting a lot yesterday, trying to get the ball on the ground, and it just worked today.”
In the first inning, junior center fielder and leadoff hitter Bree Evans got things started for the Wolverines. She scored after junior third baseman Amanda Chidester reached on a fielder’s choice.
Michigan added two more runs in the second inning — one coming on an RBI-single from Sappingfield — and three more in the fourth.
Chidester finished 0-for-2, but she recorded two RBI. The Wolverines had 10 hits in the game, leaving eight runners on base.
“It’s really nice to have the run support,” Speierman said. “But even in the games where we aren’t scoring runs, I trust that they’re gonna get it done on offense. So, if we don’t have any runs, it’s just a matter of time and I just have to keep the team in the game.”
Still, the Broncos (4-4 MAC, 10-24 overall) didn’t produce much offense.
They left five runners on base, but Speierman was perfect through three innings and, outside of a rocky three-hit fourth inning, Western Michigan’s bats were stifled.
After five innings, junior left-hander Hilary Payne relieved Speierman. And in just her second appearance of the season, Payne was impressive. She struck out three in just two innings and allowed just one Bronco to reach base.
“I thought Hilary (Payne) did a great job,” Hutchins said. “I was really pleased.”
Hutchins was able to go deep into the bench in the non-conference tilt, playing six reserves. Despite the inexperience on the field, the Wolverines never let Western Michigan make a comeback.
“I told them after the game that some of those kids don’t get to play a lot, so go in there and get after it,” Hutchins said. “It’s nice to give them a chance to play, and it’s not like it was a giveaway game, it was a game.”