By JACK VANASSCHE, Staff Writer
More than two weeks since their return from Arizona, the University of Michigan-Dearborn softball team took the diamond for a doubleheader at Ashland University on Thursday.
The hiatus did not seem to affect the Wolverines in game one, as they took down Ashland 4-3 in the first of two games Thursday.
Senior Nikki Payne talked about the message head coach Scott Combs had for the team heading into the day.
“[Coach Combs] really stressed that we needed to go out there and play our game; make the routine plays, stay aggressive, and stay within ourselves,” she said.
The Wolverines did just that, tallying 13 hits in the game and committing only one error.
Sophomore Gina Verduzco tossed a gem on the mound for the Wolverines in her sixth win of the year.
She was dialed in as she went the distance, pitching the full seven innings and allowing only three runs (one of them unearned). She also struck out two Ashland Eagles and walked only one.
In the batter’s box, Verduzco provided a big spark in the top half of the third inning. Her infield single drove home fellow sophomore Jordan Ewald to give the Wolverines a 2-1 lead.
After Ashland tied things up in their half of the third, Ewald unloaded on a pitch in the fifth inning for a solo home run. The Wolverine second baseman had given her team a 3-2 lead.
“During my turn at bat I definitely wasn’t thinking about hitting a homerun,” explained Ewald. “All I was worried about was putting a good swing on the ball and finding a way on base for my team.”
An inning later, the Wolverines got a crucial insurance run off the bat of junior infielder Taylor Moceri. Moceri notched a double to left-center to drive in the pinch runner Payne and put the Wolverines up two runs.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Ashland manufactured an unearned run from an error, a stolen base, and a sacrifice fly. Verduzco would slam the door on the very next batter, getting a flyout to centerfield to end the game.
Game two would not go as well as the first.
The Wolverines dropped game two of the doubleheader by a score of 6-2.
Ashland (13-14) seemed determined following their narrow defeat in game one, and were able to take down the Wolverines (15-10) with great pitching and timely hitting.
In the top of the first, the Wolverines picked right back up where they left off in game one. Verduzco got UM-Dearborn on the board early with a two-run double in the first inning.
From there, though, the Wolverines would stall out.
Ashland would score on a throwing error in their half of the first to make it a 2-1 game, and they would not stop there. The Eagles scored three more in the second inning and one run in both the fourth and fifth innings.
Needless to say, it was a rough game for Wolverine pitchers. Senior Abby Jewell survived only 1.1 innings after allowing four runs, three earned. Candace Kitchen pitched three innings of relief surrendering two runs.
Paige Altherr tossed 1.2 scoreless innings to finish the game for the Wolverines.
Ashland’s Brittany Flanigan threw a complete game and allowed only the two runs.
Wolverine hitters were making good contact throughout, only striking out four times in the game.
“We still hit pretty well in the second game,” Payne said. “We just hit right at their fielders, and had a lot of line-drive outs, too. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap and move on.”
Don’t look for the Wolverines to get down on themselves following the game two loss.
Ewald talked about what the team took away from the day.
“We learned that we can compete with anyone,” she said. “Ashland is an NCAA Division 2 team in the GLIAC. No matter what competition we faced, we can hold them.
Payne elaborated on the team’s attitude going forward.
“We felt really good after the day. We’d obviously like to win every game, but we actually took a lot of positives away from both games. We see those types of games as learning opportunities to improve ourselves going into conference play.”
Conference play was set to begin this past weekend for the Wolverines, but the inclement weather forced the games to be cancelled. They are looking to reschedule, but a date has not been set yet.