The Michigan softball team’s senior class is four-for-four with Big Ten titles.
After sweeping Michigan State this weekend, forcing the mercy rule to take each game in the home-and-home series 8-0, 8-0, the second-ranked Wolverines earned their fourth straight conference title.
After beating the Spartans on Senior Night on Friday, the Wolverines were only guaranteed a share of the title. They wanted more.
“We’re all kind of caught up in wanting to win a Big Ten championship,” senior first baseman Dorian Shaw said. “That’s what this game is about, it’s not about the seniors.
“We still have to play Michigan State just like the sophomores and the juniors and the freshmen do too.”
And they did, earning their 17th run-rule decision of the season – Michigan’s sixth in Big Ten play.
On Saturday, Michigan (18-2 Big Ten, 51-4 overall) played in front of a sold-out crowd — for the second day in a row — but this time in East Lansing. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, a former Spartan herself, looked to lead her team to a solo conference title. A loss would allow Indiana to force a tie for first place in the conference.
“I quoted Bo — my favorite Michigan coach ever — (that) there’s no ‘co’ in the word ‘champion,’ “ Hutchins said. “They’ve got to go up there and take care of business. I don’t want them to let up, and I know they won’t.”
And the Wolverines didn’t.
Michigan had an explosive second inning, ignited by senior designated hitter Marley Powers.
After freshman left fielder Nicole Sappingfield sustained an injury at the end of Michigan’s game against Minnesota on May 8, the lineup was shuffled to allow Powers the chance to play.
Junior center fielder Bree Evans followed with a triple to set off a Wolverine rally. Sophomore second baseman Ashley Lane hit her team-leading 17th home run of the season to add three more runs to the inning. Michigan State (6-14, 27-27) didn’t close out the inning until the Wolverines were ahead, 7-0.
“You can’t ask for much more than this from our team,” senior pitcher Jordan Taylor said Saturday. “We came out firing and we just did really well. It’s good to know that we’re firing on all cylinders as we head into the postseason.”
Taylor had a night of her own, owning the rubber for two days in a row to dominate the Spartan offense. She tossed her second no-hitter of the season improving to 29-3 on the season.
“Jordan was phenomenal,” Shaw said. “You can’t ask for much more from a senior than that kind of performance.”
Junior third baseman Amanda Chidester also added to Michigan’s effort with a 3-for-3 performance to increase her team-leading batting average to .492. She also notched four RBI on the series to lead her team with 72 so far this year.
Powers hit a two-out bases-loaded single in the fourth to push Shaw across home plate and give the Wolverines the run-rule lead. The Spartans threatened in the bottom of the inning with two runners in scoring position.
But a lineout to sophomore shortstop Amy Knapp kept Taylor’s 11th shutout of the season secure, making the weekend a real team effort.
“I feel just having confidence within our team and having confidence in each other will help us continue to play Michigan softball,” Powers said.
Friday night honored the team’s seniors and it was those players who led the team for the first game of the series – this time in front of a sold out Ann Arbor crowd.
Taylor threw yet another scoreless game, striking out 13 Spartans to match her season high. She allowed just one hit – a chopper over first base – in the top of the fourth.
The Wolverines used a big third inning to break the game open. Freshman left fielder Lindsay Doyle – who stepped up to take Sappingfield’s place in the number two slot – led off the inning with a single to short.
“Our biggest loss was when (Nicole) went down,” Hutchins said. “That two hole has been hitting, getting on base almost 50 percent, and I was really pleased with Doyle.”
Several walks and singles later, Michigan took a 5-0 lead that would only go up from there.
Michigan will now wait to hear about postseason play once the NCAA Championship team selections and regional sites are announced on Sunday, May 15 at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.
The Wolverines have been in the NCAA bracket of 64 teams in each of their last 16 seasons.