SOFTBALL. That's right, its almost softball season. Michigan Softball opens the 2012 season on 10FEB12 in Baton Rouge in the LSU Tourney.
This year will be an interesting year for the ladies. We lose some serious senior leadership in Jordan Taylor and Dorian Shaw. Replacing just one of these would be difficult enough, let alone both. Coach Hutch will certainly have her hands full.
The good news is that although we lost the best pitcher in Michigan history (IMHO), Jr. Stephanie should be able to step in and perform to Michigan Standards. Now Jordan's shoes are very large, Stephanie did a good (not great) job last year. Her numbers were very similar to Jordan's; however it appreared that Stephanie struggled with stamina and needed help in some big games.
Jordan pitched 241.1 innings, her record was 31-5, and pitched 30 complete games. Stephanie pitched in 122.2 innings, her record was 18-1, and pitched in 6 complete games. Her stats are acceptable because she was learning and growing. Now its her time so shine and I think she will be just fine.
The other loss is Dorian. Coach Huch will probably give Sophomore Mandy Gardner an opportunity to play first base. Mandy is 6' and has better range than Dorian. Last year Mandy hit only .083 in 15 games. But I have seen her take BP a few times and let me tell you; she is going to be just fine.
Now for the positives; my All-American choice Ashley Lane is back for her junior year. She led the team in HR, Slg % and was a close second in RBIs. She was thrown into the starting 2nd baseman's position after the injury to Stephanie Kirkpatrick. Lane struggled early last year on defense but settled in very nicely. She will only improve.
Another positive is the return of Stephanie Kirkpatrick. She blew out her knee early in the season during a freaky play. She had surgery in March and was walking just fine in May. Stephanie has awesome range, is quick as a jack rabbit and can hit for power and average.
Nicole Sappingfield's knee injury late in the season was a major blow to us. It was obvious that we missed her speed on the basepaths late and during the playoffs. She was walking on it in the regionals but I dont know if she had surgery or not.
Bree Evans is back for her senior year. This young lady is a real treat to watch. She reminds me of the story about Babe Ruth calling his shot. Well Bree calls her own shot every single pitch. The entire world knows she is going to slap, and I think this game-plan has been translated in over 10 languages. No one can get her out consistantly as she scoots down the line. Bree probably leads the nation in infield hits, including 1 infield double that I witnessed.
Amanda Chidester will be a beast this year. She exploded into elite status with last year's transition to 3B when Kirkpatrick when down. Chiddy has much room to grow as well; with off-season workouts, expect a few more bombs at Alumni Field.
Keep an eye on incoming freshmen Haley Wagnar (LHP-CA) and Sara Driesenga (RHP-Grand Rapids Mi). Both of these young ladies should factor in our successearly should Stephanie stumble a little.
Overall, this will be a team of adjustment. If we can get settled in early; look out. If we get a slow start, we could have a little trouble. Lets not forget the goal: Win the B1G.
In a few days, I will provide a Big Ten Preview as well as introducing two more high-end recruits to the Michigan Family. GO BLUE