After a rocky start to the season, the Michigan Wolverines softball team is climbing back into the thick of the Big Ten chase, coming back from a game one loss to take a 2-1 series victory against the Illinois Fighting Illini — their second-straight conference series victory.
As previously mentioned however, it wasn’t a walk in the park for the Wolverines. The stakes were high all weekend, and it was a nail-biter to the end. Here’s how the weekend played out for Michigan Softball:
The curtain raiser of the weekend got off to a hot start for the Illini, as a walk by outfielder Stevie Meade was converted into a run off the bat of first baseman Sydney Malott. Illinois blew the game wide open two innings later, as designated player Kelly Ryono blasted a two-run homer over the left field wall to take a 3-0 lead.
On Michigan’s side of the scorecard, there wasn’t a whole lot to speak of offensively. Though the Wolverines left six runners on base, none of the baserunners advanced past second, leaving little opportunity to close the gap. At the end of the day, Michigan couldn’t prevent a shutout, giving the Illini an apparent boost in momentum headed into the meat of the series.
The long ball once again played a decisive role in the outcome on Saturday, as the Wolverines scored all three of their runs on a single swing of the bat from Maddie Erickson in the bottom half of the fourth inning.
Michigan looked like it was on the cusp of earning a shutout of its own in the series, until Ryono sent a pitch screaming towards center field in the top of the seventh. Incredibly, Lexie Blair managed to climb the fence and yank the ball back into play — turning what would have been a game-tying three-run homer into only a two-run double. Though the Wolverines weren’t out of the woods yet, their defense managed to strand Ryono at second, leveling the series in a 3-2 victory.
It was obvious from first pitch both teams were ready to go to war for the series victory, and the Sunday decider proved to be an absolute battle. After the Illini sent another ball over the fence in the top of the second, Michigan found an equalizer in the bottom of the third — ultimately the only two runs scored by both teams in regulation.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, however. The seventh inning saw Illinois and the Wolverines come just one base runner on third away from taking a decisive lead, only to both fall short. In the bottom of the eighth, Keke Tholl proved to be the hero Michigan was looking for, winning the game and the series on a walk-off double.
After a weather cancellation last week, the Wolverines finally get their first chance against their rivals the Michigan State Spartans on Wednesday, April 12. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m., and is likely to be televised on the Big Ten Network.