The Michigan softball team got out its broom on Sunday afternoon following a two-game series sweep over Minnesota at Alumni Field.
It was the Wolverines’ sixth conference sweep of the season.
The second-ranked Wolverines downed the Golden Gophers on Sunday, 8-1, and on Saturday, 4-2, led by senior pitcher Jordan Taylor, who manned the mound for both games of the weekend series.
“You want your kids to come out and rip the ball every inning,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said after the game on Sunday. “But in general, we’re going to have to face competition when it counts (like on Saturday).”
The Wolverines (16-2 Big Ten, 49-4 overall) came out swinging on Sunday, facing Minnesota pitcher Sara Moulton for the second day in a row. But Moulton took a little too long to get situated, allowing Michigan to take advantage and put three early runs up on the board.
After the Golden Gophers loaded the bases in the third inning with no outs, it looked like Minnesota (8-10, 30-23) would surely put some tally marks on the board. But Taylor made a play at home and struck out two to allow the Wolverines to return to the bench unscathed.
“I thought today we were better,” Hutchins said. “I just don’t like to see us get complacent. I thought we got a little complacent (after the first inning).
“And then it puts the pressure back on Jordan. All of a sudden Minnesota had bases loaded with nobody out.”
In the fifth, it was Michigan’s turn to have the bases loaded with sophomore shortstop Amy Knapp walking to the plate. Knapp had been in a slump, hitting inconsistently for a team-low .228.
But she fought off Moulton, foul ball after foul ball, until she made contact for a bases-clearing triple to give the Wolverines a seven-run cushion.
“For hitting, I’ve been trying to change my approach through my mental game,” Knapp said. “I haven’t really been consistent lately, but today, coming out and actually getting hits and putting the ball in play just boosts my confidence a lot.
“I’ve had a couple rough weeks, but today I’m glad to finally break out of my shell.”
After Taylor earned 10 strikeouts on the day to help give Michigan a large lead, sophomore pitcher Stephanie Speierman came in to relieve her in the seventh.
Saturday night’s matchup was not as easy for the Wolverines, as they trailed early by a 2-0 mark.
In the fourth, junior third baseman Amanda Chidester, who boasts a season batting average of .414, hit a hard single up the middle to send freshman left fielder Nicole Sappingfield home for the Wolverines’ first run. But Michigan left the bases loaded as Moulton ended the inning with two big outs.
Senior first baseman Dorian Shaw, who hasn’t been at her best at the plate over the past few weeks, earned her chance to step up for the Wolverines in the fifth.
After Sappingfield hit a single down the right side to send freshman right fielder Lindsay Doyle home for the tying run, Shaw stepped up to the plate and hit a rocket out to the center-field wall for an RBI double.
“I think it’s good to have these types of situations in our reference,” Shaw said of coming back to win. “It shows that we’re capable of doing these things and are a tough team.”
A fielding error two batters later allowed Shaw to score, giving Taylor a two-run lead to work with for the next two innings.
Minnesota threatened to come back in the top of the seventh after putting runners on first and second, but the Wolverines stayed consistent in their defense to put the outs away before any Golden Gophers reached home.
“When hitters are getting hits off of Jordan, it’s up to us to get the outs that are available,” Shaw said. “And not give other teams extra outs, like letting runners get on base on plays that could be made. And it’s just that that lets her know, ‘We’re behind you. They may be hitting you, but they’re not going to score runs.’ ”
Michigan will play Michigan State next weekend for a home-and-home series to close out the regular season. Friday night will serve as Senior Night for Wolverines like Taylor and Shaw.