Bloomington, Ind. – If ever Michigan needed its ace and 2018 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Meghan Beaubien to rise to the occasion, it was in the top of the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.
Beaubien had been removed after the fourth inning with a 7-1 lead to rest for a potential Big Ten tournament championship game later in the afternoon. Friday’s starter, freshman Alex Storako, came on in relief but quickly surrendered two singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs.
Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins went back to her ace and her decision paid off. Beaubien retired the side, allowing just two runs off a double from Big Ten Player of the Year Kayla Konwent, and preserved Michigan’s lead in an eventual 8-3 win over No. 5 Wisconsin (40-12).
The top-seeded Wolverines (42-11) advance to Saturday’s championship game against the winner of the second semifinal between No. 2 Northwestern and No. 3 Minnesota.
“We knew we could rely on (Beaubien),” Hutchins said. “If anything, it’s disappointing, we wanted Storako to have that opportunity, and we wanted Meghan to have those innings of rest. Storako did not look ready physically or mentally and that was disappointing because we had to put Meghan back in. That’s the way it goes though.”
Michigan needed eight innings Friday to score its first run, but Saturday morning needed just two batters to get in the run column.
Senior infielder Faith Canfield singled to lead off the bottom of the first and senior outfielder Natalie Peters brought her around to score with a double over the head of the Wisconsin center fielder.
The hit from Canfield was part of a 4-for-4 day at the plate for her and a part of Michigan’s 15 total team hits.
Junior third baseman Madison Uden added a solo home run in the third inning. The shot to right field, that cleared the ambulance sitting 40 feet behind the fence, proved that the game was nearly out of reach.
Michigan scored at least one run in the first five innings and built a steady flow of offense off line drives and timely bunts.
“We were freer, looser. Faith (Canfield) started the game off with a well-hit ball and it just woke us up. It sparked us.” Hutchins said. “They fight together. They believe and they don’t get too caught up when something isn’t going their way.”
As impressive as the offense was, Beaubien’s day in the circle trumped it. Beaubien went seven innings, striking out eight Wisconsin batters while only allowing one run.
Michigan now moves on to its first Big Ten tournament championship game appearance since 2016. The Wolverines last won the tournament in 2015.
A win would give Michigan a strong case to host postseason softball in Ann Arbor next weekend and would complete the season sweep of Big Ten titles, following the regular-season championship the Wolverines claimed last weekend.
“I think that’s why they came here,” Hutchins said. “They came here to win it and we’ll have our work cut out for us, regardless of who we play. It’ll be one of the best teams we’ve played all year. We just want to play good ball and have a chance to win.”
Big Ten tournament
At Bloomington, Indiana; all games on Big Ten Network
►No. 5 Wisconsin 7, No. 12 Iowa 4
►No. 9 Illinois 6, No. 8 Nebraska 4
►No. 7 Indiana 4, No. 10 Penn State 2
►No. 11 Purdue 4, No. 6 Rutgers 3
►Wisconsin 10, No. 4 Ohio State 1
►No. 1 Michigan 1, Illinois 0
►No. 2 Northwestern 2, Indiana 0
►No. 3 Minnesota 4, Purdue 3
►Semifinal: Michigan 8, Wisconsin 3
►Semifinal: Minnesota vs. Minnesota
►Championship, 2 p.m.
Jared Rigdon is a freelance writer.