The No. 2 Michigan softball team welcomed conference rival Northwestern this past weekend, in what fans anticipated to be two competitive, down-to-the-wire contests.
Then, the Wolverines came up to bat.
Michigan (9-0 Big Ten, 33-5 overall) racked up 26 hits and as many runs over two games to send the Wildcats on their way in a series sweep.
Saturday’s 11-7 win over unranked Northwestern marked the first time the Wolverines gave up more than two runs in conference play this season. Starting the first night game at Alumni Field this season, junior Jordan Taylor pitched a rollercoaster of a game for Michigan.
Taylor was called for an illegal pitch on the first pitch of the ballgame — the umpires said her back foot came off the mound — and struggled most of the evening, giving up three earned runs and walking six. But Taylor was aggressive when she needed to be and managed to pitch herself out of jams — striking out 14 Wildcat batters.
“I thought (Taylor) hung in there and her offense picked her up tonight,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “That’s what their job is. In all, I thought our team did a very nice job of hanging on and playing for the win. We kept coming back.
“Even when we gave up runs, we turned around and came back. That’s what good teams do. You don’t always have your ‘A’ game. I didn’t think Jordan had hers, but she persevered through the game.”
While Taylor didn’t have her best stuff on the mound Saturday, the rest of the Wolverines stepped up defensively to pick their pitcher. Senior catcher Roya St. Clair threw out three Wildcat base runners to stifle Northwestern (4-5, 18-18) on the base paths.
“The scouting report on (Northwestern) is they like to steal,” St. Clair said. “We were expecting that. We just got good tags by our shortstop and second baseman, and there were some good throws there. It was nice to help (Taylor) out and get some outs for the team.”
All nine Wolverine starters got at least one hit on Saturday, though the Michigan bats were quieted in the middle of the game. Junior Dorian Shaw went 2-for-3 in game one, with a rocket home run to center field in the bottom of the sixth inning while senior captain Maggie Viefhaus continued to swing a hot bat in conference play, going 2-for-3 with 2 RBI in the night game.
“You can go through our order,” Hutchins said. “We’ve always got someone to look forward to. (Viefhaus) is a great leader out there from both sides of the ball. (Shaw) continues to impress me with her one-pitch focus.”
The offensive parade carried over to Sunday, as Michigan mercy-ruled the Wildcats 15-0. Three home runs — a grand slam from senior starting pitcher Nikki Nemitz, a two-run shot by senior Angela Findlay and a solo blast by Viefhaus — helped the Wolverines score in every inning en route to the win.
Nemitz’s shot to right center field was her second grand slam of the season and third of her career. The slam was part of a five-run first inning that helped the Wolverines get on the board early and they never turned back.
“I was feeling good so I was excited to hit,” Nemitz said. “I actually got down in the count and I was just like ‘just base hit, I just need a base hit.’ I actually swung at a really bad pitch but it felt good off the bat and I just watched it as it kept going. I got excited and got lucky that I actually hit a decent part of it.”
The senior also carried her offensive successes over to the mound, as she struck out eight Wildcat batters and walked just one.
“(Nemitz is) such a great player,” Viefhaus said. “All around, she’s a great pitcher, she’s a great defender, she can make any play. At the same time she’s a great hitter. It (was) fun to see that grand slam go over the fence and just watch her perform as she can.”
Michigan hosts Penn State in a doubleheader on Wednesday to close out its three-series homestand. Atop the Big Ten and defending a current 27-game home win streak, the Wolverines are playing their best ball of the season.
“It’s tough for the pitcher to face our lineup,” Hutchins said. “They can’t pitch around us. I’m really pleased with my kids bringing their game and making them throw it in the middle of the plate. We’ve done a nice job of laying off bad pitches and that is a great quality. It makes you very tough to pitch to.”