and... i like them? I think I like them.
After breezing past WMU in a mid-week mercy rule walk-through, the Maize & Blue softball squad took Sparty to the woodshed in a 3-game sweep. The Wolverines bombed the Spartans back into the Stone Age, delivering 9-1, 8-0, and 14-0 drubbings.
The pitching and defense were outstanding, as Michigan allowed only one earned run (a solo homer off of Wagner) on the weekend and did not commit a single error. The Wolverines came into the weekend at 11th nationally in team ERA and 4th in fielding percentage, and managed to improve their stats in both of those categories (NCAA won't update their database until later, so I don't know about ranks). For a team that struggled defensively last year, this is a major bonus. All three pitchers have been dominating since Big Ten play began, and the fielding is first-rate. If this can keep up as competition gets stiffer, Michigan has a great chance to go deep in the tournament.
Offensively, it was more of the same. Romero went 5-for-8 on the weekend and drew a pile of walks. She crossed home-plate multiple times in each game. Romo came into the weekend 6th in the nation in runs per game, and improved her numbers. This is a great testimony to her insane on-base percentage, but even more so to the ability of the rest of the team to push her across. It has to be a huge help when she's up there drawing walk after walk & hitting singles instead of homers to have that trust, and the trust has been well-earned - major praise to the whole hitting line-up!
A fun side-note on Sunday's game: Michigan hit for the cycle in home runs as a team, delivering, one, two, and three run blasts along with Driesenga's pinch-hit grand slam to finish off the scoring in a 10-run 7th inning.
After a mid-week match-up against CMU, the 2nd place Golden Gophers come to town for a 3-game set. As long as Michigan gets a win, they'll retain a multi-game lead, and 2 out of 3 would put us in great position, but you can bet the team has it's eye on a sweep!
After brushing aside MSU in mercy-rule fashion in games 1 & 2, Michigan looks to complete the three-game sweep today at noon. The game will be up in East Lansing and broadcast on the Big Ten Network (for some reason Mgoblue.com isn't showing this, but BTN's schedule says it on). For many of us this will be the first time to see the team in action, so hopefully they have a great game! A win would send Michigan into next week's huge showdown with Minnesota with at least a 3-game lead (could be up to 4 depending on how Northwestern fares against the Gophers today). Let's go Blue!
After a nail-biter on Saturday, the softball team decided to make things a little easier on themselves Sunday, winning a pair of run-rule decisions, 10-0 (5 inn.) and 9-1 (6 inn.). The two wins represented the 500th and 501st wins in conference play for Carol Hutchins. Hutch now boasts a career record of 1354-457 overall.
After the offense continued to struggle in the early innings of game one, Sierra Romero got things started with a solo-shot in the fourth, and then the lid came off in a big way. Taylor Hasselbach added two more runs with her first of three home runs on the day, and then in the fifth the Wolverines plated 7, capped off by a game-ending grand slam from catcher Lauren Sweet. Game two brought more of the same, as Hasselbach drove in two more homers, including a grand slam of her own.
The pitching staff picked up right where Wagner left off on Friday, surrendering just 5 hits and one earned run in 11 innings of work. Driesenga is looking steadily more in control after struggling during non-conference play, delivering the game one shut-out via 6 Ks to just one walk. Betsa continued to show her ability as a strike-out pitcher, delivering ten strikeouts over the course of the game. On the season, Betsa now has just one fewer K than ace Haylie Wagner, despite having pitched over 40 fewer innings (she does have a few more walks than Wagner). Having two strong pitchers with such different styles could prove a great asset going forward.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten, both Purdue and Minnesota took losses over the weekend, giving Michigan a full two game lead three weeks into the season. After a mid-week matchup against Central (correction - Western, Central is next week), the Wolverines have a three game set with a miserable Michigan State squad (1 in Ann Arbor, 2 in East Lansing). The Spartans are in last place in the Big Ten with just one win, and have yet to reach double-digit wins on the season. They've lost nine of their last ten, and were just swept by Penn State. The only danger I can see here is if Michigan gets caught looking ahead to the big showdown with Minnesota the week after, which will likely determine conference supremacy.
There wouldn't usually be much to recap in a 10-0 mercy-rule win over a truly dreadful University of Detroit team ("truly dreadful" may be an understatement - they are a remarkable 2-21 on the year). Today is a little different, though, as freshman Megan Betsa got the start and made the most of it, throwing her first career no-hitter in a 5-inning affair. For reference, the last Michigan freshman to toss a no-hitter was Jordan Taylor in 2008. Those who have followed the program may remember her as being kinda good.
Other players performed to expectations - Romero now boasts a .518 batting average after going 2-3 with a grand slam and the offense in general cruised.
Softball had what will probably hold up as its easiest weekend of the season, blowing away PSU to the tune of 6-0, 22-0 (!) (5 inn.), and 12-4 (5 inn.). There's not a whole ton to say about individual performances in a domination of that magnitude, but a couple points jump out. Michigan had two separate hitters go 4-for-4 over the weekend (Romero in game 2, Sappingfield in game 3). Romero is pushing the top in the country in batting average, on-base percentage (#1 in the nation coming into the weekend), and slugging percentage.
Meanwhile, in the circle Haylie Wagner was absolutely dominant. On Friday, she took a perfecto through 6.1 innings, ultimately completing a complete-game one-hitter. She took a no-no into the 5th on Saturday, before stumbling a bit, at which point Driesenga stepped in and shut the door. Wagner has pushed well into the top-ten nationally in ERA.
All in all, it was a pretty simple task this weekend against a wildly over-matched PSU squad. Next weekend Michigan will host a middling OSU team that swept a dreadful Sparty outfit last weekend and dropped the first game of their series with Indiana this weekend.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Minnesota is quickly emerging as Michigan's major competition, taking 2-of-3 from Nebraska last weekend and dominating Illinois thus this weekend. Nebraska also took a loss to Northwestern this weekend, putting them 3 games back of Michigan in the loss column.