In retrospect, the only problem with the Michigan softball team’s Senior Night performance was that someone forgot to warn NASA that a neon yellow sphere was entering orbit.
Senior first baseman Dorian Shaw’s walk-off moonshot flew through a driving rain and landed 10 rows up in the packed right-center field bleachers at Alumni Field, capping off an 8-0 victory over rival Michigan State on Friday.
“I knew the changeup was coming, I had a feeling … and it was pretty fat, so I was trying to put a good, hard cut on it,” Shaw said, whose last home run came on March 19.
“On Senior Night, being a senior, at home against Michigan State — that was cool.”
The win, coupled with the completion of the series sweep with an identical 8-0 final in East Lansing on Saturday, earned the Wolverines (18-2 Big Ten, 51-4 overall) their fourth consecutive Big Ten regular-season title.
Michigan, decked out in pink uniforms for breast cancer awareness, played in front of a sellout crowd of 2,522.
“I just took it in for a minute,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “It’s a proud moment to be out there in front of all those fans cheering for us — it’s beautiful. From my view in the dugout, I could see that totally filled outfield bleachers.”
Prior to the game, the senior class of six was recognized as part of the Senior Night festivities. And once the parents stepped off the field, the seniors put on a show.
Senior pitcher Jordan Taylor held a perfect game until a fifth-inning chopper got just over Shaw’s reach at first base. But the hit was all Taylor would concede, as she shut down the Spartans (6-14, 27-27) with a season-high 13-strikeout performance.
Shaw tabbed Taylor as “phenomenal,” and Hutchins had similar praise for her two-time All-American starter.
“Jordan Taylor — especially this season, but her whole career — has been an ace in the hole for us,” Hutchins said. “It’s nice to see somebody on such a night where it’s the pink game, it’s Senior Night … and she just stayed within herself and pitched outstanding.”
And Taylor turned right around on Saturday and did it again. And maybe better the second time.
Taylor threw another gem — a no-hitter this time — at Secchia Stadium in East Lansing, tossing six strikeouts and just two walks in a five-inning run-rule win.
The pair of victories over the Spartans were Taylor’s 40th and 41st career complete-game shutouts, putting her in sole possession of second on Michigan’s all-time leaders. Taylor trails Wolverine record-holder Jennie Ritter by just two shutouts.
When Taylor stepped on campus as a freshman, she had her sights set on winning four conference championships. And she carried Michigan all the way there.
“I like winning, and I do whatever it takes to win,” Taylor said. “I definitely think it’s achievable, whatever you set your mind to, so it’s just following through with the goal now.”
That goal, winning the program’s second national title, will face another test when the yet-undetermined NCAA Regional locations are selected and the NCAA Tournament gets underway next weekend.
With Senior Night behind them, the Wolverines still might take some time to reflect — but don’t expect them to enjoy this too much, as the season is far from over.
“It hasn’t set in yet,” Shaw said Friday. “It hasn’t set in that it was Senior Night. It hasn’t set in that that was my last regular-season home game. None of that has set in yet.
“I’m sure three weeks from now, when all is said and done, I’m going to be a ball of tears, like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.’ But for now, there are bigger fish to fry.”
For now, the seniors will appreciate the rather familiar feeling of being the first class of back-to-back-to-back-to-back Big Ten champions.
Winning the title three times in a row hadn’t been done either, until the Wolverines completed that feat last season.
“I didn’t expect that coming in,” Shaw said. “Everybody wants to win one Big Ten championship, let alone four, which has not been done before.
“We’ve played a lot of games together, and that’s how you want to go out — as a champion.”