To kick off Big Ten Conference play, the third-ranked Wolverines beat No. 20 Illinois in a decisive 7-1 contest at home on Saturday. Sunday’s game was cancelled due to weather, so Michigan enters next weekend’s contest against Wisconsin with an unblemished Big Ten record.
Illinois’s roster promised an explosive offense — three hitters batting over .400 — but starting pitcher Jordan Taylor proved she was up to the challenge. The junior hurler fanned 11 Fighting Illini batters through seven innings of work, while walking just one.
Taylor had both command and control of all her pitches on Saturday, holding Illinois to just one earned run on five hits. The Wolverines used their one-pitch, one-play focus to stop the Fighting Illini from rallying back.
“Our philosophy is we just throw our pitch,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I believe our best pitch can beat most hitters. Good hitting teams like (Illinois) are going to get some hits and get some runs, but we need to hold them down. Our pitchers’ job is to keep us in the game until our offense can win it.”
The offense continued to be hot at Alumni Field, as the Wolverines backed up Taylor’s effort with seven runs of their own. The hitters went a combined 10-for-28 with three home runs and two doubles in Saturday’s game, headlined by two home runs from senior Maggie Viefhaus and one from junior Dorian Shaw.
The co-captain Viefhaus took two different Illinois pitchers’ deep, finishing 2-for-4 with three RBI. Saturday was the third baseman’s first multi-home run game of her career, giving her 30 career home runs so far.
“I haven’t really been hitting that great lately,” Viefhaus said. “I just went out there with the mentality of see the ball, hit the ball and be aggressive at the plate. That’s what I did today.”
Hutchins praised Viefhaus’s efforts, noting that with conference play underway, it was good time for her bat to heat up.
“You like to see your seniors have their best year,” Hutchins said. “(Viefhaus has) been having a great year. She’s been a little cool lately, so it was nice to see her break out a little bit. Some hitters will be on their game and some won’t be. The key is that we don’t have them all off their game at once, and it’s always great when they’re all on their game at once. Maggie works really hard, and she’s a great player.”
Viefhaus has found success at home, going 3-for-7 with five RBI since opening play at home on Wednesday against Bowling Green.
Against Illinois, Shaw went 2-for-3, as did senior centerfielder Molly Bausher. Michigan’s sustained offensive attack eventually put the game out of reach.
“It’s big to get on the board first,” Hutchins said. “It puts pressure on the other team. But you’ve seen us, a number of times, get behind and come back — any team is capable of that. So, you still have to stay in your moment. (Taylor) has the command the game, and the offense has to keep coming at them.”
After spending the first month of the season on the road, the Wolverines will enjoy their week at home before taking on Wisconsin at Alumni Field next weekend. The win over Illinois gives the Wolverines momentum heading into next weekend’s conference matchup.
“We don’t really prepare any differently (for a conference game),” Viefhaus said. “We have to treat it the same as any other game. It was very refreshing to get (conference play) started and come out together like that; everyone did really well. It was very refreshing to beat them like we did. It shows that we can beat anybody. Hutch teaches us to play one-pitch softball, and that’s what we do.”