The Michigan Softball team travels to the Great State of Alabama to play the Tide in the softball Super Regional this Thursday and Friday. The dates and times are set by ESPN.
The Super Regional are basically a best 2 out of 3. These games are typically played on consecutive days with the "if game" played on the second day after game #2.
Conventional wisdom would indicate that ‘Bama is a hands-down better team. Now, at first glance, I would agree. Alabama has a better record while playing in a better conference. ‘Bama’s non-conference schedule is about the same as ours. So overall one would think that ‘Bama should blow us out of the Great State of Alabama.
Now, let’s break it down and look at it piece by piece. There are a few items that might get you to re-think your initial opinion. Let’s take a look at the numbers and the intangibles.
COACHING STAFF & FACILITIES: Huge Advantage Michigan
Coach Hutch is an underrated Coach. She is conservative when she needs to be and aggressive when she needs to be. I really enjoy watching her coach. I learn something every time.
RECORD vs COMMON OPPONENTS: Advantage ‘Bama
We have 4 common opponents: LSU, Maryland, UMass and Mississippi State. We beat LSU and ‘Bama went 2-1. We both played Maryland once: we lost 2-1 and ‘Bama mercied them 19-1. UMass was another common opponent. This is the game where we just laid an egg and lost 1-0. ‘Bama won 8-0. The last common opponent was Mississippi State. We beat then once and ‘Bama beat them 3 times. So overall, 'Bama has been more successful.
HITTING: Advantage ‘Bama
‘Bama has 8 starters that is hitting above .300. ‘Bama’s top 2 batters are Jennifer Fenton at .381 and Cassie Reilly-Boccia at .353.
We have 6 players hitting at or above .300. Our top 2 batters are Sara at .357 and Chiddy at .351.
This data is somewhat skewed as well. We started off very slow at the plate. It has only been the last 10 games or so that we really started hitting. So I gave a slight advantage to ‘Bama although I would not be surprised if we out hit them. We are definitely swinging the hot bat.
Now this is an area where conventional wisdom is challenged. I bet there are some on this board that will disagree with me on this point and they would have some valid points. ‘Bama has all-universe pitcher Jackie Traina. Traina’s numbers are: ERA 1.68 WHIP 1.07; K/BB: 3.8:1. We have Freshmen Phenom; Haylie Wagner. Haylie’s numbers are: ERA 1.46; WHIP .99; K/BB: 3.3:1
Traina is a sophomore this year. She has impressive numbers, no question about it. Her WHIP and K/BB ratio are very good. Wagner has a better ERA though. Once you break down the data, it appears that the faster Traina gets batters to swing at questionable pitches. The key here is for us to be patient at the plate. Traina gets most of her Ks off the rise ball. The rise ball is a difficult pitch to lay off. The ball appears to the batter of being chest-high; but as it reaches the batter, it climbs above the chin. Most risers not swung at are called balls for being too high.
Wagner’s numbers are somewhat skewed. She is pitching much better the last half of the season compared to the first half. This is common for Freshmen pitchers. She is not the same pitcher now as she was in February and March.
Sara is a much better #1B pitcher than ‘Bama’s #2 Leslie Jury. Jury is the traditional backup: someone to give you innings when the #1 needs a break. Our pitching depth is definitely an advantage.
So overall I rate the pitching as EVEN. Traina is faster and had better numbers than Haylie. However, Haylie’s numbers are skewed. We have better depth as well.
DEFENSE: Slight Advantage Michigan
Here is where the conventional wisdom can get tricky. If you look at just the raw numbers, someone could draw the conclusion that ‘Bama has the slight advantage. The error totals for both teams are about equal for both teams. The number of twisted DP are about equal too: ‘Bama has 21 DP compared to 20 for us. Where we have the advantage is with Coaching. Our girls will surely “out-think” ‘Bama. That is not to say that ‘Bama Players are not smart, because they are. However, our kids don't make many mental mistakes.
My point is simple. We make decisions quicker. This past weekend in Louisville we twisted 3, count them 3 double plays. I can could on one had where my teams have twisted 2 DP’s in a game, let alone a 5-4-3 DP. Another point is that we are aggressive with getting the lead runner. Steph was successful 3 times in getting the lead runner off a bunt. Most players just get the out at first.
KEYS FOR A MICHIGAN VICTORY
1) BE PATIENT: We need to be patient at the plate. We cannot chase the high stuff and take ourselves out of the game. We can certainly hit Traina but we need to have good pitch selection. Our top 3 need to outperform their top 3. I would not be surprised if we took the first pitch the first time through the order.
2) PLAY ERROR FREE: This weekend we had a few players that did not have their best games. This needs to improve. ‘Bama will certainly take advantage of errors. Alabama’s best inning is by far the 1st inning. They scored 103 runs this year in the first inning. As the game wears on, they produce less runs per inning. So we have to stop the top of the order in the first inning. That is going to be a tough order even if we play error free.
3) KEEP ALABAMA TO 3 OR LESS RUNS: Alabama is 1-5 when they score 3 or less runs. They will give up their fair share of runs. If we try to get into a slugfest, we lose. Traina is a good pitcher especially with a lead.
4) PITCHING: This is an over-statement but its true. We need to at least pitch as well as Traina. We certainly have the tools to accomplish this. Haylie curve ball is lights out. If she is on, book your ticket to Oklahoma City. If Haylie struggles, lets hope the D picks her up.
I will not make a prediction until game-time. This Super is going to be the most interesting that is for sure. We are the dogs, no doubt about it…..on paper. No one is taking us seriously. I hope ‘Bama is looking ahead and not at the task at hand.