This weekend’s series at Iowa marked several important firsts for the No. 2 Michigan softball team.
It was the first time in history a Wolverine pitcher has reached the 20-win mark in four different seasons as well as the first time a Big Ten program has won back-to-back-to-back conference championships as Michigan defeated the Hawkeyes 8-2 on Friday and 6-0 on Saturday.
The Wolverines’ Big Ten title, secured after their first win on Friday, is the program’s 13th, leading all conference teams.
“Just winning this third one, especially the third one, because it’s never been done before (has been the most significant for me),” sophomore second baseman Amanda Chidester said. “It takes a lot from the mental game. We know we have the talent — just to be able to go out there and do it though, because everyone’s out to get you.”
The second milestone — senior pitcher Nikki Nemitz’s fourth twenty-win season — couldn’t have come at a more opportune time: Saturday was the lefty’s birthday.
“It’s a great honor to be able to leave my mark on such a prestigious university and be among the greats that Michigan’s had ,” Nemitz said. “To be honest, you can’t really do anything without your team because I can’t score and can’t play defense all by myself.”
But just as she has all season, Nemitz did help her pitching effort by providing some run support at the plate. She backed up her one-hit, complete-game shutout by going 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI.
The offense also got a boost from Chidester, with three RBI on the weekend while extending her hit streak to seven games after having mild struggles earlier in the year at the plate.
“It’s coming down to the end of the season, and I’ve been working at it and my team has been supportive throughout my whole slump,” Chidester said. “The coaches and everyone never gave up on me and it was just time for me to … just do it, I guess. And now it’s just about having fun and I’m not stressing anymore about it.”
Friday’s game was a little bit of an oddball for the Wolverines.
Though Michigan only had four hits on the day, Iowa pitchers gave Michigan batters 17 free bases on 11 walks and six hit-by-pitches which the Wolverines capitalized on with eight runs.
“The key stat in softball on offense is on-base percentage — you don’t score runs if you’re not on base, you can’t, ” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We found ways to win. Sometimes we hit home runs, sometimes we throw perfect games. In this case we used on-base percentage.”
But one normality on Saturday was junior pitcher Jordan Taylor’s performance on the mound against the Hawkeyes (10-9 Big Ten, 25-23 overall).
Taylor struck out 14 batters in 25 at-bats and gave up just two runs and four hits en route to her 24th victory of the year. The Valencia, California native leads the Big Ten with 278 strikeouts on the year, 60 more than her closest rival.
Now the Wolverines (18-1, 46-6) will look ahead to obtaining their ultimate goal, a Women’s College World Series appearance and a national championship, beginning with the NCAA regionals next weekend.
Hutchins said that she wished to see her team play similar to the Connecticut women’s basketball team, which won its second consecutive national championship this past season as part of its 78-game winning streak, an NCAA record.
“You just have to stay relentless,” Hutchins said. “You have to just attack the other team. You can’t get on your heels when things don’t go your way. And things have been a little tougher for us — we’ve had to grind out victories as of late. And I think that’s been good for us because we have to trust that we can win even if we’re not hitting well because we pitch well, and if we’re not pitching well we can hit well.”