It was like a child just learning to ride a bike. In order for the Michigan softball team to finally set a steady beat in yesterday”s doubleheader against Central Michigan, it took a challenge, a rest and some falls to finally set a steady pace.
But at the end of the day, the ride was a breath of fresh air with the Wolverines winning both games 8-1 and 3-0, respectively.
In the first game, the teams started out evenly matched, as the score was tied at one run apiece in the middle of the second inning. With poor field conditions due to the mild rain, the umpires ordered a break, and the Wolverines dragged out the tarp.
As soon as the sky lightened 25 minutes later, officials gave the sign to remove the cover, and a refreshed Michigan team emerged unstoppable.
“I thought the whole team, all parts were on,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Our pitching was on, our defense was on and our hitting was on I was pleased.”
To finish out the bottom of the second, Melissa Taylor and Stefanie Volpe singled to bring in one runner each. Even after the Chippewas brought in Wendy Stephens to pitch for Amber Puchalski, Monica Schock singled home two more runs.
Stephens couldn”t get it past the Wolverines much better, as Taylor hit a double in the bottom of the third that brought in Kelsey Kollen and Meghan Doe, who helped her with the pitch.
The runners “will tell you if it”s in or out, if they can read it,” Taylor siad. “Sometimes the catchers try to throw the girl on second off, but most times our girls are pretty accurate.”
In the top of the fourth, the Michigan defense took the field expecting another one-two-three inning from either Marissa Young”s strikeouts or slapped balls. But Jennifer Skuta stepped up to the plate and hit the ball deep into right-center that sent Taylor flying.
Taylor made a diving catch but injured her shoulder while skidding on the grass.
“I hurt my shoulder a little bit from jamming it into the ground,” Taylor said.
One inning later, after Kollen named the Big Ten player of the week, this week had driven in another run, Taylor went flying again. This time it was in front of the Michigan dugout to catch a foul ball.
“I always run for them, but yesterday in practice, we worked on reading where the pitch is hit,” Taylor said. “They pitched the girl inside, so I got a good jump on it.”
Young didn”t allow Central more than three at-bats per inning for the rest of the game, allowing Michigan to cap the victory 8-1.
In the second game, Young made the shift to first base, and Marie Barda took over hurling.
Striking out seven, the senior only allowed three runners to get on base and was well on her way to pitching a no-hitter, until the top of the seventh when Kim Burke hit a single to left.
“When we have a doubleheader like this, and (Marissa) pitches the first game, she is able to tell me hitters to look out for,” Barda said. “We work together like that.”
The Wolverines racked up 10 hits of their own in game two. Young, Volpe and Kim Bugel drove in runners to account for Michigan”s 3-0 win.
But the victories were more than just another two “W” marks in the records book. The games boasted a mini-reunion.
Former Michigan player and current graduate assistant coach for Central Melissa Gentile who holds the recored for career home runs with 28 visited her alma matter and friends for the weekend.
Gentile “was one of the best,” Hutchins said. “She only played about two years for us, but she was one of the greatest.
“I think (Gentile) is a great coach. I know that (Central Michigan coach) Margo (Jonker) one of the best coaches in the country just loves her, and she had a great opportunity.”