After a 5-0 opening weekend, Michigan softball could have weathered a small step back when they headed to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in Chapel Hill. There’s no shame in losing a true road game to a ranked team, and it is unlikely that RPI would have punished them for it.
Instead, they swept a second consecutive weekend, extending their season-opening win streak to nine, including two wins over hosts #25 North Carolina, and another two over Louisville.
The weekend opened with a Friday double header, with a morning game against the Cardinals and an afternoon game against the Tar Heels. Alex Storako took the mound for the opener. While she gave up two walks in the first inning, all three outs were earned through swinging strikeouts and she got out of the jam. She added two K’s in the second, which is when the Wolverines opened the scoring. Taylor Bump hit a one-out single and advanced when Haley Hoogenraad was plunked. Madison Uden doubled them both home and the Wolverines took a 2-0 lead. Lou Allan and Bump added RBIs of their own in the third, plating Lexi Blair and Gianna Carosone. The only Louisville runs came when Storako gave up a two-run homer in her last at-bat. Meghan Beaubein replaced her and picked up the save, with the Wolverines adding two insurance runs for a 6-2 final.
That afternoon Michigan faced the hosts for the first time in a contest that was much tighter but had the same result. Michigan opened the scoring in the second, scoring three unearned runs on two separate fielding errors. North Carolina countered immediately, with Beaubein giving up a two-run homer and a double before being replaced by Storako with no outs. A tying run crossed the plate and was credited to Beaubein, before Storako got Michigan out of the inning with a strikeout. The 3-3 tie persisted for the next four innings, with Storako racking up 11 more strikeouts. Hannah Carson walked to open the seventh and was replaced on the basepaths by Lauren Esman. Uden and Natalia Rodriguz bunted her to third, and with two outs Lexi Blair hit a single that got Esman home for a one-run lead. Storako pitched a three-up-three-down seventh, adding her 13th strikeout, and Michigan came away with the 4-3 victory.
The Wolverines fared even better against the Tar Heels the next day, and Meghan Beaubein recovered from her Friday struggles to pitch her finest performance of the young season. Michigan scored its four runs one at a time, stringing together hits in order to earn four straight one-run innings. Blair crossed the plate twice— each time she doubled, and Julia Jimenez doubled her home. Meanwhile, Beaubein had a no hitter going through four and only gave up three hits on the day. She pitched nine strikeouts, including two to seal the game in the seventh inning. Michigan won again, 4-0.
In game four on Sunday, Louisville forced Michigan into their first deficit all season, and the Wolverines responded by putting up its most gaudy score of the weekend. Michigan struck first, with Blair making it home off of an Allen single in the top of the third. After Storako put the first two on in the bottom of that inning, Beubein came in and immediately gave up a home run. Louisville was up 3-1 and Michigan was in unfamiliar territory, but their deficit didn’t even last a full inning. After a Hoogenraad double and a Thais Gonzalez single to bring her home, Taylor Bump put one in the seats herself and the Wolverines led 4-3. Louisville got one back to tie it in the fifth, before Michigan broke open the game with one crack of the bat. Hoogenraad opened the sixth with a single, and Gonzalez added a single of her own. Bump loaded the bases on a fielding error and Esman came in as a pinch hitter after only running all weekend. In just the second at bat of her career, Esman hit one out of the park for the Grand Slam. The 8-4 margin held for the rest of the game, and the Wolverines sealed their 4-0 weekend.
Michigan will take their 9-0 record to the campus of South Carolina, as they participate in the Gamecock Invitational. Michigan will play Liberty twice, with those games sandwiching a Saturday twin-bill against Iowa State and the host Gamecocks. Michigan will likely be a top ten team going into the event, with South Carolina ranked somewhere in the high teens depending on where you look. South Carolina is 5-3, though all three losses came last weekend. Iowa State is 5-5 and Liberty is 1-9, with the lone win knocking Ole Miss out of the rankings. The Saturday game at 3:30 against SC will be streamed on SECN+, which is available in the ESPN app with an SEC Network login.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Michigan pick up its first loss in the Palmetto State, as softball is flukey and taking a loss here and there is normal and expected. But if Michigan can get the true road win against a ranked South Carolina, it’d be a nice RPI boost that they can expect to hold up as the season goes on.