Michigan softball dumps Maryland, 7-0, in Big Ten tourney opener

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

East Lansing – Michigan coach Carol Hutchins likes the way her team has played the last several weeks and said she believes the Wolverines can do some damage in the postseason.

They certainly made some noise in their first Big Ten Tournament appearance, walloping Maryland, 7-0 Thursday night in a quarterfinal game at Secchia Stadium on the Michigan State campus. A five-run third inning featuring a two-run home run by Taylor Bump and two triples gave the Wolverines an insurmountable lead. Michigan had six hits.

Starting pitcher Alex Storako pitched five innings, had sixth strikeouts and held Maryland to three hits, two of which came in the first inning. Storako entered the game ranked seventh nationally in total strikeouts and now has 280.  She is 23-7 this season and came into the game ranked 13th nationally in total wins. Annabelle Widra relieved Storako in the sixth and retired the six batters she faced over two innings -- she struck out the side in the seventh.

"We've been playing good ball for weeks," Hutchins said. "We've been swinging well, and our pitching was fantastic tonight. It was all together a complete game for us, aggressive base running, good defense, pitching, hitting. They're having fun, they're really enjoying it. It's tournament time, it's what we do all year for."

Michigan is ranked No. 23 nationally and the No. 4 seed in the tournament, which meant a bye in the first round.  The Wolverines (35-15, 15-8) will face top-seed Northwestern, the Big Ten regular-season champions, in a semifinal at 5 p.m. on Friday (all games are televised on Big Ten Network). The Wildcats advanced with a 5-2 win over Wisconsin.

Northwestern took an April series from Michigan 2-1. 

"We're a better ball club than we were back then," Hutchins said. "Even though we lost two of three, we played them very well. It's always an exciting time to play Northwestern. They're an exciting team to play. I have no problem thinking our kids are going to be ready, but we're gonna have to play good ball because they're a good ball team."

More: Kristina Burkhardt's sweet swing, maturity help keep Michigan softball steady

In the other side of the bracket, No. 2-seed Nebraska defeated Penn State and will face Ohio State in the early semifinal Friday. The sixth-seeded Buckeyes defeated No. 3 Illinois, 5-1. The championship game is Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Wolverines took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Kristina Burkardt beat an errant throw at the plate. Lexie Blair also scored on the throwing error, while Hannah Carson advanced to second on the fielder's choice.

Michigan's Kristina Burkhardt has 26 extra-base hits heading into the postseason.

In the bottom of the third, Michigan had its breakout with five runs. Burkhardt led things off with a triple to left center, her seventh of the season. She entered the game ranked No. 8 nationally in triples. Hannah Carson singled to right and reached second on a field error. Bump slammed a home run to left center, her fifth of the season, scoring two runs to give Michigan a 5-0 lead. A triple by Widra swelled the lead to 7-0 on a two-run triple down the right field line.

"I went down 0-2 so I just focused on seeing good pitches and trying to put together a good at-bat for my team help the on-deck batter see some more pitches," Bump said. "Eventually just fouling them off and got the one I wanted and made sure I didn't miss it."

Michigan seemingly picked up where it ended the regular season, coming off a three-game sweep at Wisconsin last weekend scoring 29 runs. The Wolverines entered the tournament on a five-game winning streak and eight wins in its final 10 games.

Storako said the team has been having fun late in the season and believes the Wolverines can make a postseason run.

"This team has just jelled amazingly and we do all the right things and support each other," Storako said. "That's the most important part of a big run."