Hutch on cranking the pitching machines up to eleven during a recent practice:
It’s not about making them feel good every day. It’s about how they respond because when the game comes, nobody feels good unless things go your way. We try to make practice harder than the game. I don’t know if we accomplished it. I have no idea. I’ll find out.
All American LF Kelly Christner on the attitude around practice:
Basically every practice, she would be like, ‘You guys have not earned one thing yet,’ Really making us focus on going out every single game no matter who we’re playing, no matter what the situation is, if we’re winning or losing, just really going 100 percent constantly. That’s helped us.
There's some actual talk about progression at the catcher spot and on pitching. Softball opens Friday morning against Virginia Tech in Tampa and plays #1 Florida the next morning.
They may not have an actual accomplishment yet, but expectations cannot get any higher for 2016, and for good reason.
Michigan softball concluded fall exhibition play last night with a trip to East Lansing. In their first fall match-up, MSU scored the only 2 runs Michigan had given up in fall play, and the Wolverines' defense was not about to let that happen again, especially with recently-graduate star pticher Haylie Wagner watching from the stands! All three pitchers (Blanco, Driesenga, and Betsa) saw action, and they combined for a complete-game shut-out.
On offense, today was a chance for the young guns to try their hand at college ball. Freshmen Sobczak, Alexander, Peters, and Canfield all got starts, and the inclusion of Falk & Blanco as well made it a majority-underclassmen line-up. Birthday-girl Kelsey Susalla was the lone senior in the order, and she was without doubt the star of the day. She hit an RBI single in the 1st, a solo HR in the 3rd, and another RBI single in the 7th, going 3-3 with 3 RBI on the day.
The offense as a whole did not completely break out until the 7th, when Michigan plated 4 runs to open up and 8-0 lead, but with the quality of Michigan's pitching, the outcome was never in doubt. It appears from the twitter feed that a few substitutions were made along the way, not all of which were necessarily mentioned (Swearingen got in the action somewhere along the line).
One item of interest is Abby Ramirez playing the lead-off role. Bonnie Tholl talked about this as a possibility on WTKA recently, and it's definitely something the coaches are going to play around with. Last season, Ramirez hit in the 9-spot and did an excellent job turning over the line-up with a .446 OBP on the strength of slap-hitting and speed. The coaches seem to think she's ready to shoulder a little more of the load & a little more of the spotlight this season. At the end of the day her role will be similar to last year - setting the table for the murderers' row of power hitters Michigan can send to the plate.
The only sad news on the night is the fact that we have no new softball content coming until 2016! Thankfully, Harbaugh has our full attention at the moment, and the winter sports are just about to get underway, so we should be able to make it to spring. Even a snow-lover like myself, however, will be eagerly awaiting the warming temperatures that signal a new season of Michigan softball!
Continuing the positve Maize & Blue momentum on the weekend from the BYU game, Team 39 saw it's first unofficial action of the year in their annual trip to Traverse City. Over the weekend the Maize & Blue took on CMU, WMU, and Oakland (who rode an auto-bid to a tourney spot last year) in a mini-tournament. The teams played a round-robin, followed by a championship game for the top two teams.
As expected, Michigan cruised through their over-matched opponents without any serious difficulty. All 4 games ended in shut-outs for the Wolverines, topping Oakland 12-0 & WMU 10-0 on Saturday. On Sunday, Michigan pounded CMU 9-0 before meeting WMU again in the championship game. An 11-0 run-rule thumping ended the weekend early. This is a tournament that Michigan should win every single year, but even so, doing so in such fashion is encouraging - especially the goose-egg on the scoreboard.
Stats are a little thin on the ground due to the fact that it's exhibition softball & only crazy people like me want stats, but a few stand out. Sierra Romero showed that she still has plenty of pop in her bat with a grand slam & Kelly Christner had multiple hits in several games. A wide variety of players tallied multi-hit games, proviing an early indication that last year's record-breaking offense should be carrying over into 2016.
Finally, the pitching couldn't be beaten - and it wasn't just Megan Betsa. Tera Blanco & Sara Driesenga also got significant playing time & got the job done. While you can't take much away from a walk-through like this weekend, if there is one positive to focus on, it is the pitching. The biggest question mark for 2016 is whether Blacno & Driesenga can fill some of the void left by Haylie Wagner, and this weekend was the first small step towards indicating that they might be able to do so.
Fall ball continues on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at Alumni Field. If you're in Ann Arbor, get yourself down there for a free sneak peek at the team! I'd love it if someone could go & let us know a bit about who's playing where, etc.
I've seen this mentioned a few times elsewhere, but I figured it warranted its own thread.
On Thursday 6/4, Athletics is holding a welcome-back party at Alumni Field for Team 38. Per MGoBlue:
The U-M community will gather Thursday to welcome the national runner-up Wolverines back to campus. A 3 p.m. arrival time is anticipated, and fans should gather at Alumni Field around that time. Michigan Athletics will communicate specific arrival details as soon as they are known. Text "SoftballReturn" to 54815 and/or follow @umichsoftball to get accurate, official information throughout the day on Thursday.
I know it's the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, but everyone that can come out should. It would mean a lot to the girls to have a full house to congratulate them on their tremendous season. Plus, a little bird tells me your favorite Alumni Band will even be there.
Roll the dough!
NCAA Softball Super-Regional
Thursday-Friday, May 21-22
ESPN, ESPN2 & ESPNU
The NCAA super-regional is a best-of-three series. There will be one game Thursday and one Friday, with a third game following a half-hour after the second if needed.
Thursday, May 21
Game 1 -- #3 Michigan vs. #14 Georgia (ESPN2)
Friday, May 22
Game 2 -- #3 Michigan vs. #14 Georgia (ESPNU)
Game 3 (if necessary) -- #3 Michigan vs. #14 Georgia (ESPN)
Last year in Tempe, the regional was an emotional thrill-ride. Shoot-outs, come-backs, and one of the greatest games in Michigan softball history combined to put the Wolverines past Arizona State. Cardiologists throughout Southeast Michigan were probably happy to see this year’s affair cause the Maize & Blue spectators a great deal less anxiety. Apart from a spot of indigestion when Cal briefly took a 1-0 lead on Saturday, there was not much to raise heart rates or drive up blood pressure as the big Blue machine cruised to their regional coronation.
As the top seed in the region, Michigan drew the Oakland Golden Grizzlies in the opener, a middling team that snagged an auto-bid out of a lower-tier conference. Michigan was not as sharp as they could have been in their first playoff appearance, which Carol Hutchins attributed to the nervous energy of the first game of the playoffs. Even so, Michigan breezed by a badly out-matched Oakland team. The Grizzlies played into Michigan’s hands, handing out 6 walks, committing 2 errors, and plunking a pair of Wolverine batters. As she has done so often, Sierra Romero led the way on offense, going 2-3 with 2 RBIs as Michigan secured a 9-1 mercy-rule win.
Michigan had to shake off the jitters that slowed them down in game 1 quickly, as a tested California team came knocking on the door on Saturday. As mentioned, Cal took an early lead with a home run in the top of the 2nd. The first time through the line-up, Michigan continually made contact against Cal starter Stephanie Trzcinski, but couldn’t get much going beyond a manufactured run in the 2nd to level the score. Once they’d had a look at her, though, Michigan’s deadly line-up zeroed in and showed no mercy. Romero gave Michigan the lead on a deep solo-blast in the third, and in the 4th the rest of the team blew the doors down. Falk, Lawrence, and Christner each launched long-balls, and Cal was down 7-1 before they came back to the plate. Cal would continue to threaten throughout the day, but Betsa worked out of several jams with a little help from her friends. Abby Ramirez highlighted the defensive performance with a dynamite diving grab to rob a base hit. A two-run double in the 6th from senior catcher Lauren Sweet allowed Michigan to walk off early for the second day in a row, also by a 9-1 margin.
On Sunday, Michigan unexpectedly faced the Pittsburgh Panthers, who used a grand slam and some good freshman pitching to oust the Bears in the Saturday late game. As the away team on the scoreboard, Michigan batted first, and by the time they were done, the game was almost out of reach. Sierra Lawrence sprinkled the cheese from the lead-off spot, reaching 2nd base on a hard-hit ball down the right-field line. She would come in to score after two illegal-pitch calls. Pitt’s hurler hit Romero and walked Christner before giving up a 3-run blast to Susalla. Clearly flustered, she left the game without retiring a single Michigan batter. Aidan Falk added another run, and it was 5-0 by the time Pitt picked up their bats. It briefly looked as though Michigan might grab yet another mercy-rule win when the lead swelled to 8 runs in the 3rd, but Pitt got 3 back in the bottom of the same inning. Neither starter Wagner nor reliever Betsa had her best stuff today, as on-and-off drizzles, fatigue, and perhaps just a little complacency with the big lead kept them off-balance. They did what they needed to do, however, and the offense removed any doubt with a pair of insurance runs in the 5th inning. Alumni Field rose as one to cheer on Betsa as she gunned down the final Pitt hitter in the 7th, and Michigan could celebrate a 10-3 win and a regional championship.
The stats throughout the weekend were impressive to say the least for the Maize & Blue. Michigan went 3-0, outscoring their opponents 28-5 along the way and posting a combined 1.84 ERA with a 26-5 K to BB ratio. 5 home runs on the weekend pushed Michigan’s season total to a staggering 112, now well past the 2005 team’s program record in that category. Junior wonder-worker Sierra Romero showed the full range of her abilities, going 5-9 at the plate, showing power with a home-run and blazing speed with a triple and a cheeky bunt-single against a backed-off infield. Freshman Aidan Falk made a big impression as well – as Hutch says, at this point in the year, they’re not freshmen anymore! She hit .600 on the weekend, grabbing 3 hits against both Cal and Pitt.
After Sunday’s game, Carol Hutchins told her team what she always does after a regional win – that they are one of only 16 teams in the country that gets to have practice on Tuesday. For a coach that wants nothing more than a chance to help her players get better, that is reason enough to be excited. One of those other 15 teams will be thinking along the same lines, however, and is headed for Ann Arbor with no intentions of bowing out early. Now it’s time for us to look ahead to our opponents in the next round, the Georgia Bulldogs out of the ESS-EEE-SEE!
Georgia tore through a thoroughly mediocre non-conference schedule, littered with the Elons and Winthrops of the world. The Mary Nutter Collegiate Challenge was their only real foray into serious opposition prior to conference play. There Georgia notched a shiny win over Oklahoma, but suffered losses to Texas and Notre Dame – tourney teams, but ones a real contender should be able to handle. The Bulldogs added a few more non-conference games in the midst of their conference slate, and did not fare so well in those match-ups, dropping a wild 15-9 affair to UNC and taking a surprise 4-3 loss against USC Upstate.
Within the SEC, Georgia’s season went largely according to plan, with few major upsets in either direction. A home win against Alabama and a road sweep of Kentucky mark the most impressive achievements of the Dogs on the season thus far. With the rise of the conference as a whole, however, simply navigating the schedule without excessive humiliation now buys a team not only a ticket to the big dance, but the right to host a regional as well.
Once in the regional, things got dicey for Georgia. Fans that came to Athens on Saturday got to watch MUCH more than they paid to see. Western Kentucky went 14 innings with Georgia, eventually winning a 2-1 pitchers’ duel on the arm of Miranda Kramer, who struck out 19, allowing only 5 hits and 1 run over the equivalent of two back-to-back games. After that, Georgia was pushed to the very edge of elimination, salvaging a 2-run deficit in the 5th inning against UNC before walking off in the 7th. Sunday went by more easily, as Kramer was unable to recapture the magic of her earlier performance, and Georgia cruised to back-to-back double-digit mercy-rule wins. They escaped ignominy and earned the right to travel north to Ann Arbor where, according to their football coach, they will surely freeze to death.
Digging into the stats, we see a Georgia team with a respectable defense and an elite offense. Chelsea Wilkinson is clearly the work-horse for Georgia in the circle, having hurled over 100 more innings than back-up Brittany Gray, and leading the team in ERA, strike-outs, and a number of other categories. She is a strike-out merchant, averaging a little over one per inning – not Betsa-level, but quite good. The one real knock on her is that she is significantly more inclined to give up the long-ball compared to her partner, ceding over 5 times more on the season. While this may be attributable to having faced better opposition, Georgia may want to consider giving Gray an opportunity if the home runs start piling up.
Meanwhile, at the plate, Georgia stands squarely among the nation’s elite. The Dogs .346 team batting average is actually a hair ahead of Michigan’s .344 number, and is tied for 10th nation-wide. While Michigan more than makes up the difference with a better on-base and more home runs, there is no doubt that the Bulldogs can plate runs when they need to. At the end of the day, what matters on offense is scoring runs, and Georgia is again tied for 10th in the country at 7.31 per game (Michigan, meanwhile, is in 2nd at 8.30).
The star of the line-up is Alex Hugo without a doubt. She hits over .400, gets on base over half the time she steps to the plate, and leads the team with an impressive 21 homers. Limiting her opportunities to get multiple RBIs will be essential for Michigan’s defense. That won’t be easy to do, however, as almost every major contributor on Georgia hits over .330. Sisters Cortni and Sydni Emanuel are both over .400 on the year (there are two other girls in the Emanuel family, Brittni and Whitni, which … ok). For one of the first times this season, Betsa and Wagner will really get a sense of what other pitchers feel like going up against our line-up – there simply are no easy outs available.
The one weakness in this buzz-saw of an attack is a dearth of true power hitters. Apart from Hugo, only one other hitter has double-digit homers on the year (Anna Swafford, a strike-out prone .342 slugger). After her, only one more player has more than 5 long balls. This team is almost certainly going to get hits, but as long as we can scatter them and get the timely K or double-play, we just might escape without too much damage. If they get on a roll and the hitting becomes contagious, however, the wheels can come off in a hurry, as WKU’s Miranda Kramer found out on Sunday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Like last week, I’ll peg a couple Michigan names for newer fans to keep an eye on. It would be a little too easy to just name superstar Sierra Romero and ace pitcher Megan Betsa every time, so this week, let’s put the spotlight on a couple players who have been coming on strong of late – Lindsey Montemarano and Aidan Falk. In addition to starting the team’s pizza obsession, Montemarano has been a spark plug in the line-up in recent weeks after having to fight for her spot earlier in the season. She has become a highly disciplined hitter, using her diminutive stature (and accompanying smaller strike-zone) to draw more than her fair share of walks. Aidan Falk starred in the “regional review” above, and deservedly so. She has been dialed in of late, and is beginning to show more and more of the power she used to set state records in New York in her high school days. Carol Hutchins has often spoken about the importance of hitting through the line-up, 1-9 rather than just 1-4. Keep an eye on this pair as we look to continue that trend.
As much as I hate to do it, even a superstitious fan like myself has to make some predictions at the end of a write-up. Looking at Georgia’s numbers, it’s impossible for me to believe that we will hold them down all weekend. At some point they’ll string things together, somewhere along the line, Michigan’s defense will be stretched to the limit. All the same, when you stack things up, and as much as I hate to jinx anything with over-confidence, I just can’t see them beating us out. We hit just as well as they do for average, better for on-base, and vastly better for power. Their ace is very good; our back-up has better numbers than her and our ace is among the nation’s best. I see Georgia getting hot and winning a game, but Michigan will pull through in the end and return to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series next week.
[Ed-S: written at our request.]
Big Ten Champions
|WHAT||NCAA Softball Regional|
|WHERE||Wilpon Complex/Alumni Field|
|WHEN||Friday-Sunday, May 15-17|
|TV||ESPN2 & ESPNU|
The NCAA regional is a double-elimination tournament, so the only team Michigan is guaranteed to play is Oakland; if all goes chalk, Michigan would play Cal in Game 3 and go from there.
|Friday, May 15|
|3:30 p.m.||Game 1 -- #2 seed California vs. #3 seed Pittsburgh (ESPNU)|
|6:30 p.m.||Game 2 -- #1 seed Michigan vs. #4 seed Oakland (ESPNU)|
|Saturday, May 16|
|4 p.m.||Game 3 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner (ESPN2)|
|6:30 p.m.||Game 4 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser (ESPN2)|
|9 p.m.||Game 5 -- Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner (ESPNU)|
|Sunday, May 17|
|3:30 p.m.||Game 6 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner (ESPNU)|
|6 p.m.||Game 7 -- Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if necessary) (ESPNU)|
Big Ten Review
For the first time since 2005, Michigan softball swept the Big Ten championships, taking home the regular season crown after a tightly contested race with Minnesota and the tournament crown after downing PSU, Northwestern, and Nebraska in dominant fashion.
The Wolverines came into Big Ten play slightly chastened by a home loss to Kent State and their brilliant pitcher, but nevertheless riding a brilliant non-conference performance. MGoSoftball has already ably reviewed that portion of the season (http://mgoblog.com/diaries/softball-mid-season-report).
After exacting revenge against KSU and pounding Bowling Green, the Wolverines charged into Big Ten play with a three game set at Ohio State, racking up double-digit wins in all three games. Two games into the Iowa series, things were looking on track for continued success. Halfway through the final game of the series, though, the Wolverines defense collapsed, blowing a 4-run lead and handing the lowly Hawkeyes an unlikely upset at Alumni Field. There wasn't much time to recover, either, as Michigan had to travel up to Minneosta for a 3-game set against the nationally-ranked Golden Gophers, headlined by star pitcher Sara Groenewegen. After a 9-1 run rule drubbing and a blown 3-run lead early in the second game, it looked like Michigan's magical season was unravelling all too quickly.
Fortunately, something clicked in those Maize & Blue minds after that bad 2nd inning in Minnesota, and the Wolverines bounced back. They tied the game in the 3rd, and went on to win 9-4, following up that performance with an Easter Sunday run-rule blowout, returning the 9-1 favor that Minnesota had handed out that Friday.
From that point on, Michigan has not looked back. Since the loss to Minnesota, Michigan has won 20 straight games, including 13 via the run-rule and 2 no-hitters from sophomore stand-out Megan Betsa.
The end of the Big Ten season found the Wolverines in possession of an array of awards, headlined by Megan Betsa as the conference pitcher of the year and Carol Hutchins as the coach of the year. Multiple Wolverines found their way onto the 1st, 2nd, and defensive teams. Sierra Romero won the tournament MVP award and also the inaugural ESPNW national player of the year award as well (she is a finalist for the more prestigious player of the year award, which will be announced later). The brilliance of the team's performance earned Michigan the #3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and the right to host a regional and, if they win through, a super-regional as well.
Three teams will be coming to Ann Arbor this weekend with their eyes on a trip to the super-regionals. We'll look at Oakland, the #4 seed in the region, first, since they're our Friday opponent, then at #2 seed California and #3 seed Pittsburgh after that.
[After the jump.]