As 50,000 fans filed out of the Big House after the Michigan football team’s spring game Saturday afternoon, many of them headed for Wilpon Sports Complex, where both the Michigan baseball and softball teams were scheduled for 3 p.m. games.
The bleachers at Alumni Field filled up early in anticipation of a Michigan win, and the Wolverines delivered in a 4-1 extra-inning game to open their weekend series against Minnesota.
“The crowd today – wow,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said Saturday. “They were fabulous. In all those innings where we were getting it going, you could feel it. It was electric. You feel a lot more pressure to win in front of all those fans because you don’t want to let them down.”
The contest was a pitching duel until the fourth inning and was tied until junior pitcher Nikki Nemitz’s walk-off home run in the eighth sealed Michigan’s victory.
Yesterday’s game was sparsely attended, likely due to the Easter holiday. But that didn’t stop the Wolverines (6-2 Big Ten, 29-9 overall) from capitalizing on a couple of hot innings in which they scored all seven of their runs to win 7-0. This weekend’s two wins mean Michigan is now riding a nine-game winning streak.
“I think we are getting right up to our peak right now,” freshman centerfielder Bree Evans said.
Feeling fresh: Freshman designated player Amanda Chidester has the highest batting average on the team. It is no surprise that pitchers do whatever they can to avoid throwing to the freshman, who is tied for first on her team with six home runs.
Pitchers who tried to pitch around her ended up paying a price. On Saturday, Chidester reached base after being hit by a pitch. Yesterday, she hit a sacrifice fly that scored Evans.
The Wolverines scored all seven of their runs yesterday in two innings, and another freshman had a large role in that run production.
Freshman second baseman Steph Kirkpatrick asked Hutchins earlier in the year if she would be allowed to hit. Hutchins responded that the freshman would hit as soon as she started to perform.
“You recruit (freshmen) to come in and make an impact,” Hutchins said. “I expected all three of them to be capable of that, but that doesn’t mean that it always happens right off the bat.”
After hitting at the end of the lineup earlier this year, Kirkpatrick was recently moved to the leadoff position where she has found her groove. She tallied three hits yesterday and scored two runs.
The two-inning, seven-run escapade was largely the work of the freshmen. But with the powerful trio of Chidester, Kirkpatrick and Evans, it may not be that surprising.
“We can’t believe that it’s all three of us – that we are contributing so much,” Evans said. “But our upperclassmen are helping us so much. They don’t treat us like freshmen, they just treat us like a player on the team, so we don’t think too much about us being freshmen.”
Doing it all: After Findlay’s hole-in-one home run into a trashcan just outside the fence last weekend, junior pitcher Nikki Nemitz followed suit Saturday. In the bottom of the eighth, she hit a walk-off homer right at the light post on the other side of the fence. The ball bounced off the post and back into the stadium, but it didn’t matter. Nemitz and two baserunners jogged home to end the game 4-1.
Nemitz had already struck out 14 players and allowed just two hits all game, but that wasn’t enough for her. Working the count helped her get into prime position for the game-ending blast.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to hit this ball,’ ” Nemitz said. “I ended up getting to a 3-1 count which gets me even more pitches. I was like, ‘I’m going to hit this.’ I just took one and hit it.”