The Michigan softball team hadn’t lost two consecutive games to Big Ten opponents since 2007, and it hadn’t played a game in extra innings all season.
That all changed on a trip to Minneapolis this weekend.
The 20th-ranked Wolverines (12-3 Big Ten, 32-13 overall) came into Sunday’s game confident despite dropping both ends of Saturday’s twinbill, 1-0 and 6-4, to Minnesota (7-8, 28-16).
“I told them they have to battle,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “That’s the deal. When you’re facing a good pitcher, you have to battle every at-bat. We missed a lot of opportunities when we had them (Saturday).”
Though Michigan got off to a rough start early in Sunday’s game — it gave up a three-run home run in the first inning — it bounced back, putting three runs on the board in the third inning, knotting the game up.
Senior first baseman Amanda Chidester led off the inning with a single through the left side and freshman designated player Sara Driesenga singled to put runners on the corners. Chidester and Driesenga were substituted out for pinch runners Jaclyn Crummey and Brandi Virgil, respectively, to get the offense going.
Junior shortstop Amy Knapp then reached on a fielder’s choice that brought home Crummey from third base and freshman catcher Lauren Sweet hit an RBI single to score Virgil. Sophomore right fielder Lyndsay Doyle rounded out the inning with another RBI to score Knapp.
With the game tied at three heading into the fourth inning, freshman lefty Haylie Wagner found her groove. Wagner proceeded to strike out seven batters and didn’t give up any more runs while pitching, pushing the game into extra innings.
And it was Wagner’s home run in the top of the tenth inning that broke the tie.
“When she hit that, I knew we had that game won,” Chidester said. “Before that at-bat, she was on the pitcher and pitched a great game. That happens to pitchers sometimes, they help their own cause. It was awesome to see. She was battling that at-bat, then she just golfed it out.”
Senior centerfielder Bree Evans batted in one more run to give the Wolverines a 5-3 lead, and Wagner struck out the final batter to give Michigan the victory.
“I feel today we really worked hard,” Hutchins said. “We had to battle. (Saturday) we didn’t come to battle — we didn’t battle nearly as well as we did (Sunday).”
In Saturday’s doubleheader, the Wolverines’ offense came out flat. In the first game, Wagner gave up one run and struck out nine, but that 1-0 margin was enough for the Golden Gophers to win.
Minnesota started sophomore ace Sara Moulton against Wagner, whose 1.18 ERA, as of April 21, is best in the Big Ten, just below Wagner’s 1.43 ERA.
Moulton blanked Michigan and only gave up two hits to a Wolverine squad whose offense has been on a hot streak for most of conference play. Though Michigan dropped that game, Hutchins doesn’t blame the loss on the Wolverines’ pitching.
“You have to give (Minnesota’s) pitcher credit yesterday,” Hutchins said. “She did a fantastic job against us, (but I) thought Haylie was really good all weekend. The first game, she had one bad pitch, and we lose. That’s ridiculous. That was a great pitching performance by her in game one, and our team didn’t back her up. We needed our entire team to play.”
In Saturday’s second game, Minnesota again jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but a solo home run by Chidester put the Wolverines on the board in the top of the fourth inning. The Golden Gophers tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fourth to extend their lead to 5-1.
Sophomore left-fielder Nicole Sappingfield led off the sixth inning with a triple and Chidester batted her in with a single. Freshman hurler Sara Driesenga, who pitched that game, blasted a two-run home run to close the gap to 5-4, but the Wolverines couldn’t close out the game and Minnesota took the second game, 6-4.
This weekend, Hutchins also changed Michigan’s batting order. Sappingfield, who had been in the nine spot most of the season, switched with Doyle, who was batting second, and Wagner replaced senior third baseman Stephanie Kirkpatrick.
“We change the lineup a lot, and Nicole is who we think will help us win,” Hutchins said. “Sappingfield’s been hot. It doesn’t really matter where you bat in the order, it just helps us win. You can look at our stats over the last 10 to 15 games, and we’re putting in the people with the best batting average at this point.”