(Photo courtesy of Gina Payne)

By JACK VAN ASSCHE, Staff Writer

The University of Michigan-Dearborn softball team was back in action this past weekend with a doubleheader on both Saturday and Sunday. With conference action heating up, the Wolverines had four games at stake in search of conference dominance.

Saturday, the Wolverines took on the Saints of Siena Heights University in a two-game set. UM-Dearborn won the first game 4-1, and pulled off a come-from-behind walk-off win in game two winning 8-7.

In game one against Siena Heights (26-20, 10-6 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference), the Wolverines dominated thanks to a masterful pitching performance from sophomore Gina Verduzco. Verduzco kept the Saints off the base paths for the most part, that is, when they made contact. She struck out 11 Saints through her complete game gem.

Verduzco would help her own cause at the plate when she doubled in a run. Ellie Kauten later knocked in two runs with a single. Kauten one-upped herself in her next at-bat with a solo home run in the sixth inning. That was more than enough support to earn the Wolverines the victory.

In game two, the Wolverines fell behind early. After two and a half innings, Siena Heights led 5-1. Chipping away, the Wolverines would tie the ballgame at five apiece highlighted by a three-run fifth inning. Both teams scored one run in the sixth inning, and went to the seventh tied 6-6. In the top half of the seventh, the Saints scored a potentially-game winning run. Siena Heights needed to keep the scoreboard reading 7-6 for only three more outs.

Instead, the Wolverines opened their last chance with a will to claw back. They opened their half of the seventh with back-to-back singles. Two walks would both load the bases and force home the tying run. An earlier sacrifice bunt and strikeout had the Wolverines down to their last chance. With the bases loaded and the game tied, Gina Verduzco singled home the game-winning run.

The Saturday sweep of Siena Heights sent the Wolverines to the top spot in the conference. The following day, they would battle No. 12 ranked Davenport University in a doubleheader.

The nationally-ranked Panthers ended up taking down the Wolverines in both games. The Wolverines (25-14, 8-4 WHAC) fell in game one 5-2 in nine innings and dropped game two by a score of 15-4.

Davenport (33-10, 13-3 WHAC) got a stellar pitching performance from junior Emily Maves in the first game of the Sunday doubleheader. Maves held the Wolverines to only two runs and struck out 13 batters in nine innings of work. The Wolverines hung with the Panthers for eight innings, but ended up surrendering three runs in the ninth inning and were unable to get any offense going with Maves on the mound.

The loss was obviously disappointing for the Wolverines, but taking a nationally-ranked team into extra innings is not something they will hang their heads for.

“We were able to put pressure on the defense by loading the bases,” explained senior infielder Nikki Payne. “While we weren’t able to scratch the runs we needed across, they gave us something to work for next time.”

Game two of the doubleheader was not as close as the first. Out of the gate, the Wolverines jumped to a quick 4-0 lead. But the Panthers took advantage of a few big innings and never looked back. At the end of the game, the scoreboard read a lopsided score of 15-4.

Payne aired her team’s feelings while also thinking ahead.

“We don’t just not like losing, we hate it. Whenever we do end up in that situation, with a top team or not, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. That motivates us to work that much harder.”

Although the losses sting, the Wolverines will have a better idea of where they are as a team as they draw closer to the conference tournament.

“The games were definitely measuring stick for where our team is now,” Payne continued. “We know we can compete with any team and those games proved it. It seems counterintuitive to have that mindset coming out of losses, but we know where we went wrong in those games, so we have clear goals in terms of what to learn from and move forward.”

The Wolverines will hope to show the rest of the conference how well they are capable of playing in their six remaining regular season games.