The No. 2 Michigan softball team has made a point of capitalizing on other teams’ mistakes this season — and the latest example came this past weekend against Purdue.
Seven illegal pitches were called on Purdue pitcher Suzie Rzegocki in game one Saturday — a penalty that the Wolverines have become familiar with this season, because of junior starting pitcher Jordan Taylor’s struggles with it — and the team was quick to take advantage of the call finally going its way.
Michigan was up 2-0 heading into the fifth inning before scoring a pair of two-out runs in the top of the frame after an illegal pitch call extended the inning for sophomore centerfielder Bree Evans.
“(Purdue pitcher Rzegocki) was letting it get to her emotionally, and we were like ‘We know how that feels,’ ” senior captain Maggie Viefhaus said. “We could see it was getting to her, so we wanted to take advantage of that. We were very loud and rowdy.
“It was good to be on the other side of that and take advantage of it by scoring runs and making her throw it over the plate. Sometimes it would be a strike that we wouldn’t swing at or a ground ball that gave us another chance. It happened a couple times where we ended up getting hits out of those at bats instead of the ground ball out or strike out.”
The Wolverines (12-0 Big Ten, 37-5 overall) won the first game of the series 5-1 behind Taylor’s solid seven-inning performance. Giving up just one earned run, Taylor struck out nine Boilermaker batters and walked none to improve to 19-2 on the season.
From the batter’s box, senior pitcher Nikki Nemitz continued to showcase her versatility as she hit her seventh home run of the season, finishing 2-for-3 with two RBI in the first game.
Michigan faced Rzegocki again in game two of the series, this time winning 12-3. The Wolverines scored one run in each of the second and third innings before putting together a six-run fourth inning. Michigan scored 12 runs on 13 hits, despite having junior Dorian Shaw go 1-for-4 and senior Molly Bausher go 0-for-2 in the game.
“Whenever you see the same pitcher two days in a row or in the same day, you get to see the ball,” Findlay said. “That helps us as hitters. (Rzegocki) might strike out some people like she did yesterday and today, but we knew that if we stayed in there and got out pitch we could get to her.”
The top of the lineup — Evans, and senior captains Angela Findlay and Viefhaus — went a combined 10-for-23 with nine RBI this weekend, providing a spark from the get-go. While St. Clair struggled from the plate in the first game, she turned it on in the series finale with a 3-for-5 performance, including a home run and four RBI.
“The top of the lineup, they’ve been very consistent,” Hutchins said. “We weren’t clicking through the lineup as we have done, and that’s going to happen. We find ways to win. These players step up and get it done for us. Both (Findlay) and (Viefhaus) did that, as well as (St. Clair) today. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders offensively, but we still found a way to battle and get some runs. “
Taylor came in to relieve Nemitz in the fourth inning, as the lefty wasn’t having her strongest performance. The senior faced 15 Boilermaker batters, giving up three earned runs on five hits. Taylor earned win number 20 as she pitched four innings of one-hit softball from the pen.
“We have two pitchers that can come in the game, and we have confidence in both of them,” Findlay said. “It’s good for (the pitchers) to know that when one of them isn’t having the greatest day, the other one can come in there and we can still win the game.”
The team now travels to Columbus to take on rival Ohio State in a doubleheader between the Big Ten’s top two teams. The Wolverines will try to defend their unblemished conference record against the Buckeyes, as they close out their two-game series road trip this Wednesday.