'They're unfazed': Michigan softball downs Northwestern for shot at Big Ten title

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

East Lansing – The Michigan softball team, its bats quiet most of the game, came from behind thanks to a two-run home run by Taylor Bump and will play for the Big Ten softball tournament title.

Michigan defeated regular-season Big Ten champion Northwestern, the top-seed and No. 10 nationally, 2-1, on Friday in the afternoon semifinal at Secchia Stadium on the Michigan State campus. The No. 23 Wolverines (36-15) have won seven straight.

"These kids have taken punches, and they're unfazed," Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. "What we needed to have more than anything was to get Bump up in that inning. If I could write the plan, that's what I'd write."

The Wolverines, the defending Big Ten Tournament champions from 2019, the last time it was contested before taking a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will face No. 2 seed Nebraska in the title game Saturday. The game has been moved up two hours to 11 a.m. because of the potential for inclement weather.

Michigan took the lead in the top of the seventh on Bump’s two-run home run to left scoring Hannah Carson who had a two-out single to right. Bump had a two-run homer Friday night in the quarterfinals and now has six this season.

"I wasn't trying to hit a home run, so that's my answer to that one," Bump, a fifth-year senior, said. "I was trying to see a good pitch and hit it hard somewhere. I knew it was going over as soon as I was hitting, but I wasn't trying, that's for sure.

"I feel like I've been in these moments. Being a fifth year kinda helps in those moments a little bit trying to guide our younger kids in that, too, just give them some experience. I felt very confident in that at-bat, I felt very confident in that box all day long, so I was waiting for a good pitch to hit."

The Wolverines emptied the dugout to celebrate with Bump.

"That one I was fired up for," Bump said. "I was jumping up and down screaming, my head started to pound a little bit. That was a big one for me."

Hutchins said the only thing she told Bump was to hit it hard.

"You can go up there and try to hit it far and you can get disconnected," Hutchins said. "I said we just need to hit it hard, and she did. Bump hits it hard, good things happen."

Heading into the inning, the Wolverines had only one hit.

The teams went four scoreless innings before Northwestern capitalized on a miscue by Michigan in the bottom of the fifth giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. Michigan's left-handed pitcher Meghan Beaubien started the game but after walking the first batter in the fifth and then hitting the next, she was relieved by Annabelle Widra.

Beaubien, 8-5 entering the game with a 2.79 ERA, pitched four innings and gave up three hits while striking out three.

"I thought she did a good job, and we felt it was time to maybe make a change," Hutchins said. "That's the hardest decision to make."

Ball four of an intentional walk from Widra to Big Ten Player of the Year Rachel Lewis got away from catcher Hannah Carson. Ayana Lindsey, pinch running, scored from third for the first run of the game..

"I mean, you know, (stuff) happens I guess," Widra said of the wild pitch. "It was a close ball game the whole time and just trying to stay in the moment throughout the rest of the ball game even though the one run scored we were still in it all the way."

"Intentionally walking someone is never fun. It just happens."

Widra retired the next sev batters to complete the game.

"There's not enough words to describe how fun that is," Widra said. "We didn't win the (regular-season) series against Northwestern and we came out and were dogs today, and I'm so proud of us."

Northwestern had three hits but left five on base.

"The key to the whole game is us holding them to one run because that's a powerful offensive team," Hutchins said. "We kept them in the park, we kept them to one run, and that's the name of the game. That was the key for us."

Michigan, which started the Big Ten season 0-4, has won 10 of its last 12 games. A week ago, the Wolverines were fifth in the Big Ten standings but bumped into the No. 4 seed, ensuring a bye in the tournament first round, with a sweep at Wisconsin last weekend.

Hutchins said she has liked the way the team has played these last several weeks. While Bump disputed the suggestion the Wolverines are peaking -- that would, she said, mean they'd be ready for a fall -- the Wolverines certainly have gotten hot at the right time.

"It means we're not done, we're hungry, and we're not satisfied," Bump said of the late-season surge. "We didn't start off the best and all we can play right now is the game we're playing and can't worry about anything in the past, can't even worry about the future."

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Twitter: @chengelis