Sweeping conference opponents and earning Big Ten weekly awards has become a recent standard for the No. 2 Michigan softball team.
But junior pitcher Jordan Taylor — who pitched a five-inning perfect game this Saturday against Minnesota — refuses to allow the Wolverines or herself to become complacent.
“In these type of games, a lot of teams have a tendency to expect things to happen and expect everyone else to do it,” Taylor said through the Athletic Department, after her perfect game.
“It can be a struggle to stay focused. Pitchers can get a little lazy when they think the hitters aren’t as good. For me, it helps to make little individual goals. I made a deal with my mom at the beginning of the season that if I threw a perfect game, she would get me a little gift; I actually just upped the ante (Saturday), so that was good timing.”
In addition to the gift from her mom, Taylor’s weekend performance earned her another prize — her fourth Big Ten Pitcher of the Week title this season.
The junior has started 19 games for Michigan this season, throwing 15 complete games in that span and keeping her cool on the mound along the way.
“Your pitcher sets the tone for the defense,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “(Taylor) is going to be in command of the game, get ahead of hitters and put them away — a strikeout is great defense. But I think the pitcher can give the team a lot of confidence, and I know our kids are confident in (Taylor).”
The Wolverines gave Taylor plenty of run support en route to her perfect game, as Michigan cruised to a 9-0 victory over the Golden Gophers. Saturday’s game was the fifth time a Wolverine pitcher tossed a perfect game, and Taylor sealed herself a spot in the record books with her fifth career no-hitter.
Taylor has shown great poise from the mound this season and has earned a 16-2 record.
Leading the Big Ten with 190 strikeouts in 125.1 innings pitched, the junior was named one of 25 finalists for the 2010 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award this past week.
With two no-hitters under her belt already this season — the first coming against Oklahoma State on Feb. 19 — Taylor boasts a dominant 1.17 ERA.
“(Taylor) makes defense a lot easier for us,” senior captain Maggie Viefhaus said. “When she makes a mistake, it’s an aggressive mistake. It’s so great playing behind the pitchers we have.”
The junior had a target on her back entering this season, as her coaches and teammates expected the righty to build upon her strong performances last season. After posting a 1.40 ERA and 19 wins in 2009, Taylor has continued her dominance on the mound in 2010.
In the game against then-No. 8 UCLA in February — a 13-inning, 4-2 victory for Michigan — Taylor flashed some of her best stuff. Striking out 18 hitters, the hurler’s 13-inning effort was a career-high.
“Hutch had really been instructing us to stay one-pitch focused,” Taylor said after the first series of the season against UCLA. “But that’s always a little easier said than done. For the first time ever, I felt like I was able to focus on one pitch at a time and not worry about the outcome.
“I was more focused on my pitches and them working then on UCLA hitting it. I was actually able to put that one-pitch-focus mindset into action. So, it was a great start to the season, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to carry that same mindset into the rest of the season.”
While her UCLA outing helped the Wolverines start the non-conference schedule out strong, the junior’s perfect-performance against Minnesota kept the team undefeated in conference play.
“(The perfect game) is a big confidence builder and momentum pusher,” Taylor said. “You need games like that over the course of a season. The UCLA (game) was a good game like that at the beginning of the year, and the Arizona game was a good one. You just need those to keep going, otherwise you’ll pull your hair out. Today was a good day.”
As long as Taylor keeps pitching the version of ‘Michigan softball’ she’s shown this spring, the Wolverines can expect to continue winning — and Taylor can expect to take home a few more awards of her own.