Down 2-1 through four and a half innings to lowly Bowling Green, the No. 3 Michigan softball team looked ripe for an upset.
But a towering two-run homerun by sophomore second baseman Ashley Lane in the bottom of the fifth gave Michigan a 3-2 lead, and the Wolverines never looked back.
Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 32-2 overall) added another run to take the game 4-2, with sophomore hurler Stephanie Speierman (15-0) earning the win.
Speierman went six strong, giving up two runs (one earned) on just three hits, despite walking six batters. Senior pitcher Jordan Taylor closed out the game for her sixth save of the season.
But even though Michigan pulled it out in the end, the team looked lackadaisical at the start.
“I actually wasn’t impressed with our team today,” coach Carol Hutchins said. “I thought our energy was not where I would like it to be for a home game. Sometimes that can be a combination of nerves from being at home — sometimes playing at home is hard — the distraction of it all, the excitement of it all.
“I told them after the game I didn’t think they had their best energy, but we got away with it. And I’m pleased to see us come back, so in that respect, I’m glad to see it be a good game.”
Bowling Green took advantage of Michigan’s lack of energy in the top of the third, when shortstop Hannah Fulk crushed a solo shot into the right-field bleachers to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
Then in the bottom of the frame, Bowling Green (4-13 overall) elected to intentionally walk senior first baseman Dorian Shaw (.422 batting average, 11 homeruns), bringing junior third baseman Amanda Chidester to the plate.
“That’s been happening all year, and there have been times where I haven’t been able to come through with a hit,” Chidester said. “But I get excited for it because I want to be able to help the team out, so I like that opportunity.”
Chidester made Falcons pitcher Zada Lines pay for walking Shaw, smacking an RBI single to right field with two runners in scoring position. But freshman leftfielder Nicole Sappingfield was gunned out at home, allowing Lines to escape with the score knotted at one.
And in the top of the fourth, Bowling Green recaptured the lead with some small ball.
The Falcons started off the inning with a bloop single to shallow left field and followed it up with a sacrifice bunt — a strategy they used all game long. Chidester couldn’t field the bunt, allowing the batter to reach first, putting runners on first and second with nobody out.
A double steal put two Bowling Green runners in scoring position, and a walk by Speierman loaded the bases soon after. Another base on balls then allowed a runner to score to put the Wolverines down 2-1.
Speierman struggled with her command all game long, but she continually got herself out of jams, leaving eight Falcons on base throughout the game.
“(Speierman) makes good pitches,” Hutchins said. “But her game management is not acceptable … because balls in the dirt, walked batters, it’s just not acceptable. You can’t have six or seven walks and pitch here.
“Her ball count is way too high and I think she’s better than that.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Lane hit her game-winning homer, a mammoth blast over the left field wall. The ball hit near the top of the trees residing outside of the field, the only thing keeping it from potentially reaching the adjacent Ray Fisher Stadium.
“It felt good,” Lane said. “(It was my) first (homerun) at home, so that was exciting, but they’re all the same. Every hit, too. She just laid it in there and I took advantage.”
Two more singles by freshman catcher Caitlin Blanchard and senior designated hitter Marley Powers ensued. Then another base hit, this time by freshman rightfielder Lyndsay Doyle, put Michigan up 4-2.
Speierman kept the Falcons from crossing the plate one more time in the sixth, and then Taylor came in with a two-strikeout, one-two-three inning for the save.
Despite the early hole, the Wolverines never had any doubts in earning their third-straight come-from-behind victory.
“We’ve had better games, obviously,” Lane said. “But we never got down, we knew we’d come through.
“Every time we got in the circle for defense, we’d be like no problem (Speierman), we’ve got you, don’t worry about it. So we just believed that we can do it, and obviously we came through and did.”