In its final early-season tournament of the year, the Michigan softball team faced something it hadn’t seen in almost three years: five ranked teams in a row.
And the 10th-ranked Wolverines did not disappoint, finishing with a 4-1 record in the tournament and showing signs of breaking out of its early-season hitting slump.
“We did a really good job all weekend of playing one-pitch softball,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We just wanted to be relaxed and confident and we did that very very well all weekend, so it helped our confidence at the plate.”
Junior pitcher Nikki Nemitz ignited the offense with five RBI in the second game of the tournament, a 9-1 win Friday over No. 16 Louisiana Lafayette. Michigan scored nine runs on 10 hits before the mercy rule was called after the sixth inning to end the game.
The Wolverines managed just one hit in a 1-0 loss to No. 3 Washington on Friday but were able to come back and beat No. 6 Arizona State 7-3 the following morning.
Michigan’s last game of the weekend came against perennial powerhouse and No. 12 Arizona. The Wolverines got one run in the second, and that was all they needed as Nemitz shut out the Wildcats 4-0.
Pitching has been consistent all year thanks to the duo of Nemitz and sophomore Jordan Taylor. The pair pitched in the same game twice in the tournament and both games ended in wins.
“I love knowing that if I’m having an off day, I have an All-American right behind me,” Nemitz said. “Coming in in relief doesn’t really make a difference. I just try to come in and throw hard.”
Nemitz and Taylor combined for 52 strikeouts and allowed just six runs in the five games of the tournament.
“Our philosophy as a coaching staff is that we have two No. 1 pitchers,” Hutchins said. “We’re the only college program in the country with two No. 1 pitchers. They keep us in the game and just pitch the inning and not worry about anything else and it’s been very effective for us.”
Freshman second baseman Stephanie Kirkpatrick, who paced the Wolverines at the plate by batting .417 for the tournament, had a two-hit, two-RBI effort in the finale against Arizona. She drove in junior pinch runner Kristen Larson for the first run of the game, which turned out to be the game-winner.
“(Kirkpatrick’s) gotten a lot better day after day,” Hutchins said. “She played outstanding softball for us all weekend and she’s continued to get better, so now the outcomes are going her way.”
Michigan has yet to play at home this season, but it finishes its long, early-season road trip next weekend in Evanston against Northwestern. The series will be Michigan’s first competition of the season against a Big Ten opponent.