The best hand you can get in poker is a royal flush. Why? Because of the ace.
The No. 1 Michigan softball team has been using that hand all season, thanks to senior pitcher Jordan Taylor’s performances on the mound. Taylor leads the Big Ten with a 1.49 ERA and eight saves.
Boasting a 21-3 record so far this season, it looked like Taylor — one of the team’s three captains — would be this year’s MVP.
But poker is a game of chance, and you’re not always dealt the best hand.
Which is why when Taylor showed up to the Wolverines’ Saturday matchup against Iowa at Alumni Field not dressed in uniform, the outlook for the season changed — sophomore Stephanie Speierman took the mound.
“(Taylor) is out indefinitely,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
This news could have caused the Wolverines to fold their cards and drop back from their current position at the head of the conference and the country.
But it didn’t. And it won’t.
Taylor may be out indefinitely, but this past weekend’s performance, a 3-2 comeback victory Sunday against the Hawkeyes, showed that when given an obstacle as season changing as this, Michigan isn’t going down without a fight.
Take Speierman for example. The pitcher has been dealing with consistency issues all season, leading the Big Ten in both home runs against (4) and, on the flip side, wild pitches (24).
Her 18-0 record was cracked this weekend after Saturday’s loss to Iowa, but it was the first complete game Speierman has pitched. All eight of Taylor’s saves were for Speierman.
Yes, she earned her first loss. But the Hawkeyes are a strong team – Iowa is currently third in the conference behind Michigan and Indiana who are tied in first. And it wasn’t a blowout. Speierman didn’t have much support at the plate in the 4-2 decision.
After pitching two games this weekend — one complete game and one through the fourth inning — Speierman has proven that, with due time and team support, she can handle being the go-to pitcher for the rest of conference play.
She just needs to lay off the wild pitches.
One of the other winning hands in a poker game is four of a kind, where all four cards are of the same rank. Well, Michigan may not have a four-person deep pitching staff, but if the Wolverines’ third option can rise to Speierman’s level, this hand could be continuously played over the next few weeks.
Junior pitcher Hilary Payne has it in her.
This is the pitcher’s first season as a Wolverine, after playing at Loyola Chicago during the 2009-10 campaign. She entered Ann Arbor with 67 strikeouts in 118 innings under her belt.
So far this season, Payne hasn’t seen the mound much, but does stand with a 3-0 mark. Her showing last Sunday proves that she can definitely hold her own when the team is looking to her.
After coming in for Speierman in the fifth inning, Payne posted a one-run, one-hit effort in the final three innings.
Without Taylor, the offense had to step up — senior designated hitter Alycia Ryan did so — and the defense had to be on its toes.
But just because Michigan might not have its ace right now, don’t count the squad down and out just yet. Wait until the Wolverines play their hand.
It may not be a royal flush, but it’s not a hand to fold just yet either.