For the first time all season, sophomore pitcher Haylie Wagner took to the circle for the Michigan softball team.
And for the first time all season, the 14th-ranked Wolverines (15-5) swept a series, beating Central Florida on Wednesday, 11-2, after crushing Boston College the day before.
Wagner, who had missed the first 19 games of the season with an injury, faced 12 batters through three innings in her debut Wednesday evening. She allowed two runs — one earned — and just a pair of hits before giving way to sophomore Sara Driesenga, who closed the game by retiring six consecutive batters. For Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, Wagner’s return worked as well as she had hoped.
“She’s got a ways to go to get herself all the way back, but it’s a great first step,” Hutchins said. “I thought she did a nice job.”
The Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and a five-time conference Pitcher of the Week in 2012, Wagner got off to a rocky start against the Knights. The left-hander walked the leadoff batter but made it out of the inning after inducing a soft groundout and shallow fly out. Central Florida scored on a home run in the second inning and a single in the third — both with two outs.
“I still have a lot of work to do, but being in the circle is where I want to be,” Wagner said. “It felt great to be back out in the circle and having my teammates there supporting me.”
Though Wagner wasn’t perfect, Michigan’s offense made sure she didn’t have to be. The Wolverines played small ball in the top of the first, scraping together a run and giving Wagner an early cushion. After junior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle singled to open the inning, a bunt advanced her into scoring position and a fielding error brought her home.
In the second inning, senior second baseman Ashley Lane led off with a double. After she scored on a sacrifice fly, two walks and another double pushed the Wolverines’ lead to 4-0. The following inning, Michigan drove home five more runs to blow open the game. The Wolverines finished their scoring with two runs in the top of the fifth, and the contest ended early after Driesenga kept the Knights off the scoreboard in the bottom of the frame.
In Wagner’s absence, Driesenga has emerged as a very capable alternative. The right-hander has started 17 games this season — winning 12 — including a no-hitter against Hofstra on Feb. 23. Hutchins expects the two pitchers to complement each other as Wagner improves to mid-season form.
“We’re going to have to ease (Wagner) into some innings,” Hutchins said. “Whatever innings she gets, she needs to help us win.”
On Tuesday, Michigan took advantage of poor Boston College pitching to blow out the Eagles. In the first inning, six walks, two errors and a single helped the Wolverines tally eight runs. Two frames later, Doyle hit a one-out double, sparking a five-run outburst that put the game out of reach. Driesenga and freshman pitcher Alice Fitzpatrick combined to allow just two hits, no earned runs and six strikeouts during the five-inning contest.