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Softball recap: Michigan drops three of four games at Gamecock Invitational

Michigan won the opener against Liberty, but cold bats caused them to drop the next three against Iowa State, South Carolina, and a second against Liberty.

Mike Janes Photography

Flying high at 9-0, Michigan Softball travelled to South Carolina looking to continue its hot start. While a game one win over Liberty made it look like they might keep rolling, three-straight tough losses put their record on the season at 10-3. It was the Wolverines’ first setbacks of the year, and while softball season is long and early bumps are expected, the rocky weekend could help clarify what work there is still to do before the Big Ten season.

Michigan had trouble scoring all weekend, and relied on good pitching to keep games tight. In the Friday match-up with Liberty, Michigan took a 1-0 win. The only run came in the third when Julia Jimenez hit a one-out double and Lou Allan singled her home. Pitcher Alex Storako did her part, earning her third double-digit strikeout game of the season with 13. Meghan Beaubein had three strikeouts in the final four at-bats to get the save. But the quiet Wolverine bats were a preview of what was to come that weekend, with only one multi-hit inning.

Both games of the Saturday sweep are forgivable losses in a vacuum, but look worse back to back. Saturday morning’s 5-1 loss to Iowa State was a close game for six innings and headed to the final frame 1-1. The Cyclones had homered in the first, while Michigan’s lone run came from a Jimenez RBI with Esman scoring in the 5th. Esman had been just the third runner that day to reach second. After giving up the early homer Beaubien calmed down significantly, giving up just two more hits before the seventh inning.

Things unraveled in the seventh. Beaubien gave up a leadoff single and was replaced with Storako, who looked good initially. Storako was gifted an out on a sac bunt and then got the strikeout, putting Beaubien’s runner on third with two outs. She then gave up a walk and a single, giving Iowa State a 3-1 lead. Another walk, another hit, and Iowa had a 5-1 lead. Carol Hutchins called in Chandler Dennis, only the third pitcher to appear for Michigan this season, who got out of the inning. Michigan threatened in the seventh, loading the bases before taking three quick outs and their first loss.

The afternoon game against South Carolina was another affair where solid pitching received no help from the bats. Michigan had just two hits, and South Carolina hit a two-run homer in the second to take a permanent lead. Storako gave up the other run on an RBI triple in the fifth, and Dennis came in for mop-up duty again.

Michigan went to Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. getaway game looking to close the weekend on a positive note and thought they had it before another late loss. Michigan got things started early with a Jimenez leadoff double. She was sac bunted to third and scored when Allan picked up a double herself. Skvarce singled to RBI Allan and Michigan had an early 2-0 lead. Dennis got her first start of the season and acquitted herself well. She gave up a leadoff single that ended up coming around to score, but was able to keep Liberty off the score sheet for three innings after that.

In the third, Hannah Carson hit a three-run homer and the score was 5-1. Liberty put two of the first three on in the fifth and Storako replaced Dennis. After a strikeout, Liberty hit a three-run homer of their own to narrow the score at 5-4. Beaubein came in with one on and two outs in the sixth, the runner advanced to third on a wild pitch, and then tied the score on a single. The Wolverines gave her no breathing room in the seventh, and Liberty promptly ended the game with a leadoff homer in the seventh. Michigan had its third-straight loss.

The biggest concern of the weekend was certainly the hitting. While late-game pitching wasn’t lights out, there’s no telling what would have happened if the pitchers had a little breathing room. Of particular concern is the collective zero hits by Haley Hoogenraad and Morgan Overaitis, who had entered the weekend leading the team in batting average in that order. (Overaitis now leads, followed by Thais Gonzalez and Hoogenraad). 2019 batting average leader Lexie Blair also did not record a hit, and has just seven hits in 40 at-bats out of the leadoff spot this season. More consistent production from her would go a long way towards giving the pitching staff more run support.

We knew at some point Michigan would need to use a third pitcher. Junior Sarah Schaefer served in that role last year but Coach Hutchins decided to test out Dennis, a freshman, first. Dennis getting the start on Sunday makes sense after how many pitches the main pitching pair had thrown Saturday, but last year it took 24 games for someone other than Beaubien or Storako to record a start. That game, in which Schaefer was pulled before the end of the first, would turn out to be her only start of the season. It is possible that using Dennis in just game 13 indicates she may get further Sunday duty.

Michigan will now head to Fullerton, California for the Judi Garman Classic, which they participate in every year. This year they’ll open against Loyola-Marymount. The headline game of the tournament is Saturday’s tilt with No. 4 Texas, and they’ll cool down Saturday evening against Texas Tech. Washington and Colorado will come Sunday. Texas is 15-1, and will be the toughest test the Wolverines have faced yet. Hopefully Michigan can pick off an 8-7 Loyola-Marymount on Friday and jumpstart a return to the win column.