Coming into the weekend, the Michigan Wolverines softball team and the Nebraska Cornhuskers were in opposite roles they’ve filled in recent seasons — Nebraska: the conference favorite; Michigan: the upset-minded underdogs.
If the roles were reversed headed in, the result was a return to form for the Wolverines, who took two of three on the weekend to upset the Cornhuskers. Michigan will look to carry the momentum from that series win this week between a midweek with rivals Michigan State and a weekend showdown with Illinois.
Here’s this week’s trip around the diamond in the world of Michigan softball.
After getting a four-run lead in the first two innings, the Wolverines really started cooking with gas in the third — plating six runs off two RBI singles, a two-RBI double by Lexie Blair, and a two-run homer by Keke Tholl.
Though Nebraska managed to stave off a shutout in the bottom of the fourth inning, it was little consolation for the Cornhuskers as Michigan made a commanding 10-1 run rule statement in the first game of the series.
Saturday’s affair initially looked like a true seven-inning thriller, with Nebraska holding a slim two-run lead headed into the bottom of the fifth. With two outs recorded, the wheels fell off the wagon for Jessica LeBeau and the Wolverine bullpen, as none of the three pitchers could find the inning-ending out before the Cornhuskers hit a pair of two-run homers and capped things off with an RBI-single to force the mercy rule.
With both teams notching mercy rule victories to start the series, fans and viewers wouldn’t have been remiss for expecting more fireworks to cap things off. Instead, they finally received a full seven inning contest.
Though Nebraska drew first blood with a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the second, Michigan quickly wrested back control of the scoreboard — taking advantage of key fielding errors and wild pitches to score two runs in both the third and fourth innings.
Though Nebraska cut the lead back to two with a sacrifice fly, it was ultimately as close as it could get to tying things back up, as Lauren Derkowski held the line for a complete game victory.
The Week Ahead
Though no game in the Big Ten is a write-off, the next four matchups for the Wolverines present considerable opportunity to build on their series upset against the Cornhuskers and get back to the top of the pile in the conference standings.
Rivalry aside, the Michigan State Spartans have struggled to get anything rolling this season — entering the week 10-17 overall and a dismal 1-5 in Big Ten play. Third baseman Jessica Mabrey presents the most obvious challenge to Michigan’s pitching, posting a .347 batting average and OPS over 1.000. But the Spartans’ pitching has struggled mightily, with none of their three qualified hurlers holding an ERA below 3.50.
While the Illinois Fighting Illini had a more successful non-conference slate, the opening of their Big Ten season has been equally poor as Michigan State’s; the Fighting Illini also post a 1-5 conference record headed into the week.
Illinois does claim both a pair of solid bats and a solid ace, however, as outfielders Kelly Ryono and Stevie Meade carry batting averages over .340 while pitcher Sydney Sickels posts a WHIP under 1.00.
Week Schedule (All game times at EDT, streaming and television options where applicable)
Wednesday, April 5 — at Michigan State (5 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Friday, April 7 — vs. Illinois (5 p.m., B1G+)
Saturday, April 8 — vs. Illinois (2 p.m., B1G+)
Sunday, April 9 — vs. Illinois (2 p.m., Big Ten Network)