Michigan Softball 2018 Season Preview

Michigan Softball 2018 Season Preview

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 9th, 2018 at 4:45 PM

[ED: Happy Softball Opening Day! Every year South Bend Wolverine writes these fantastic previews of Michigan's continuing softball dynasty. He put this up before the season started but they've already won two games, the second a no hitter by freshman pitcher Meghan Beaubien. I've added photos and captions. Enjoy the winning! -Seth]

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More great seniors where that came from! [JD Scott]

It seems as though Michigan softball is often at its best when other sports are scuffling.  Michigan’s mediocre 2005 football team played in the same year that Michigan softball won a national championship.  Softball’s 9-year Big Ten conference championship streak spanned the entire Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke years, covering some Beilein struggles and the late Berenson decline as well.  The high point of that run, the 2015 “Year of the Pizza” national runner-up squad, made names like Romero, Lawrence, Wagner, and Susalla household names while Wolverine fans were reeling from the collapse of the Hoke/Brandon fiasco.  If this pattern holds, then middling seasons in football, hockey, and arguably basketball as well just might be a good omen for the 2018 softball team.

Whatever the auguries, this is a team resolutely looking towards the future.  The conference championship streak is broken, all the biggest stars of 2015 have graduated, and one of the most exciting recruiting classes in program history has arrived in town, ready to get down to business.  The past is in the past.  With first-pitch just two days away, it’s time for a new generation to write some legends of their own.

Departures

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Will it be weird not having Megan Betsa around? You bet your ass it will! [Marc-Grégor Campredon]

Michigan bids a fond farewell to a storied senior class.  The four players who made up the class of 2017 played on some of the greatest teams in Michigan softball history, including one of my personal all-time, all-sport favorite teams to watch, the 2015 team.  These women won an astonishing 202 games as Wolverines.  In conference play, they brought home 3 Big Ten Championships and 1 Big Ten Tournament Championship, while in the post-season they won 3 NCAA regionals, made two trips to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, and finished as National Runners-Up once.

The star of the group was right-handed strike-out artist Megan Betsa.  She made 1st Team All-Big Ten 3 times, and 2nd Team All-American thrice as well.  Her name won’t be dislodged from the Michigan record books anytime soon, as she finished her career second in team history with 6 no-hitters, third with 102 wins and 1,201 strikeouts, and fourth with 37 shutouts.  As a senior, she led the nation in Ks by a country mile, setting down 412 batters on strikes, 52 more than the second-place pitcher.  On a team that didn’t have a deep rotation, Betsa was an iron horse, throwing 235.1 innings while maintaining a remarkably high level of play throughout.

[Hit THE JUMP for the new wave, just like the old wave]

Softball Regional Preview & Season Review

Softball Regional Preview & Season Review

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on May 19th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

2017 Michigan Softball Season Review & Regional Preview

THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT

NCAA Softball Regional

WHERE

Husky Softball Stadium, Seattle, WA

WHEN

Friday-Sunday, May 19-21

TV

ESPN2 & ESPN3

THE SCHEDULE

The NCAA regional is a double-elimination tournament, so the only team Michigan is guaranteed to play is Fresno State; if all goes chalk, Michigan would play Washington in Game 3 and go from there. (All times Eastern, note that only the time of the first game each day is fixed.  Other games may start later, depending on the duration of earlier match-ups.)

Time

Game

Friday, May 19

 

9:00 p.m.

Game 1 -- #2 seed Michigan vs. #3 seed Fresno State (ESPN2)

11:30 p.m.

Game 2 -- #1 seed Washington vs. #4 seed Montana (ESPN3)

Saturday, May 20 

 

5:00 PM

Game 3 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner (TV TBD)

7:30 PM

Game 4 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser (TV TBD)

11:00 PM

Game 5 -- Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner (TV TBD)

Sunday, May 21

 

7:00 PM

Game 6 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner (TV TBD)

9:30 PM

Game 7 -- Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if necessary) (TV TBD) 

 

Season Review

It is a testament to the stunning success of the 2015 and 2016 teams that this year has felt, at times, like something of a slog.  After winning 60 games in 2015 and 52 in 2016, with just 15 losses over the two years combined, this year’s mark of 41-11-1 has felt downright mediocre at times.  One could easily be forgiven for forgetting that Michigan only narrowly missed out on hosting post-season play for the 3rd straight year, and ranks in the top-25 in most offensive categories.  Success has a way of breeding high, even unreasonable, expectations, though, and there is no doubt that 2017 has been a bit of a reality-check after two years spent on the heights.  Before looking ahead to this weekend’s opposition, let’s take a look back at the ups and downs that brought us to this point.

As has happened all too often over the last few years of UM softball, the season began with heartbreak at the hands of the Florida Gators, who are beginning to look a lot like the Alabama of the sport.  Despite picking up a run against the usually unhittable Kelly Barnhill, and despite having runners 60 feet away from crossing home for a walk-off win in the 8th & 9th innings, the Wolverines couldn’t get it done, falling 2-1 to the eventual #1 national seed.

Each of Michigan’s early-season invitationals would be marred by frustration at the hands of top competition.  While the Wolverines weed-whacked their way through the weaker opponents on the schedule, they dropped games against ranked opponents like USF, Texas A&M, UCLA, Baylor, and Kentucky, along with a loss to unranked Notre Dame (38 in the RPI at season’s end).  The only ranked team Michigan was able to top was Arizona State, victims of 3-0 and 2-0 shut-outs at the hands of the Wolverines.  Along the way, another major frustration came in the form of a tie against Florida State.  After squandering a 1-run lead in the 7th, the game was called halfway through the 8th due to FSU’s flight plans.

After the ritual slaughter of a few MAC opponents to celebrate the team’s arrival at Alumni Field after over a month spent on the road, the Wolverines turned their attention to the Big Ten schedule.  The wins started to pile up, but a number of ominous signs continued to loom.  Tera Blanco had still not emerged into a top-level pitcher, and had to be lifted in favor of senior Megan Betsa on several occasions.  Betsa continued to prove herself to be an elite pitcher, but also piled up a massive pitch-count – a combination of having to throw 2 or more games every weekend and a strike-out based approach which often results in long, battling at-bats.  On the offensive side of the ball, production continued to be uneven at best.  Weak run-support was a major factor in a 5-0 loss at OSU, a 2-1 slip-up at Maryland, and – one of the lowest points of the season – a 1-0, 11-inning defeat at Wisconsin, in which Megan Betsa threw 7 innings worth of no-hit softball, surrendered one hit in the 8th, and then finally gave up a walk-off solo shot in the 11th.

Carol Hutchins was furious with the lack of production (and perhaps the lack of leadership as well), and sent 5 regular starters to the bench for the early innings of the following game.  The team got the hint, and when the starters were re-inserted, they went on a tear.  Wisconsin went down 10-2 in 5 innings that day and were blasted off their home field early again in the rubber game, falling 8-0 in 5.  Finally the bats seemed to be awake, as Michigan tore through the remainder of their schedule, outscoring Indiana 17-2 over a three game series, brushing aside Western Michigan 8-0 in 5, and finally, giving the football team a run for their money in the “Rutgers blow-out” department, winning 6-1, 19-1 (5 inn.), and 20-0 (5 inn.) in Piscataway.

While the 20-3 conference record that Michigan put up was better than several of the marks put up during the 9-year conference championship streak, it wouldn’t be good enough to keep pace with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who are in the midst of the greatest season in school history.  Nevertheless, optimism was high heading into the Big Ten tournament, as the second-seeded Wolverines prepared to host the event for the first time in over a decade.  Even better, Michigan was set to face a mediocre MSU squad they hadn’t lost to in years.  Things were looking good as the Maize & Blue held on to a 4-2 lead heading into the 7th, but an uncharacteristically erratic inning from Megan Betsa lead to a 5-4 loss and an early exit from the tourney.

In just a few short minutes last Friday, a narrative of a hot-and-cold team that had found its stride and was ready for a deep post-season run was thrown into disarray.  Questions now abound as to who the true Michigan is.  Are these the Wolverines that were one hit away from wins against Florida and Florida State, that have one of the best offenses in the nation, and that obliterated almost all of their conference opposition?  Or are they the team that slips up against the Marylands and MSUs of the world, and can’t get past ranked opponents?  Only time – and the NCAA regional – will tell.

Players to Watch

 Michigan brings a series of stars to the table this year, both offensively and defensively.  Below, we’ll take a look at two of the most important offensive leaders along with Michigan’s unquestioned ace in the circle.

Kelly Christner

Kelly Christner burst onto the scene as a sophomore, hitting a blistering .393 and crushing 21 home runs en route to First-Team All-American honors.  After a dip in production as a junior, Christner has found her way back to elite status as a senior.  While she hasn’t been able to replicate her power numbers from the Year of the Pizza two seasons back, as a senior she is hitting .414 for the year, reaching base in over half her at-bats.  Compared to her blazing start to the season, Christner took a bit of a step back in Big Ten play, hitting .375 with an OBP just under .500.  Even so, she is still one of the team’s most important offensive pieces and provides an essential element of senior leadership in the batting order.  Lately she has seemed more comfortable hitting from the lead-off spot, and her status as the team leader in stolen bases makes her a good candidate to start trouble on the base paths.  If she can produce at a high level, it will set a great tone for the rest of the team throughout the regional.

Faith Canfield

Another hitter to keep an eye on is sophomore utility player Faith Canfield.  As a freshman, Canfield was in and out of the line-up, hitting just .268, and she looked only incrementally improved in the early going of her second season in Ann Arbor.  Around the time conference play began, however, something clicked for Canfield, and she laid waste to Big Ten pitching, hitting a Romero-esque .462 in league play and slugging just a notch under .750.  On a team that lacks the power hitting of the last two years, Canfield – tied for the team lead in both doubles (with Aidan Falk) and home-runs (with Kelly Christner) – is one of the leading candidates to put the hurt on a ball and drive in a few runs.  Her aversion to strike-outs is another advantage; with only 7 on the year, you can count on her putting the ball in play when she steps to the plate.

Megan Betsa

No single player has been more critical to keeping Michigan softball on track in 2017 than senior RHP Megan Betsa.  Of her staggering 1,165 career strike-outs, 376 have come in 2017, her best statistical year as a Wolverine.  Her 23-8 record does not do full justice to her contributions to the team, as she faced all the toughest non-conference opponents, earned 5 saves in relief of Blanco, and has pitched both Friday and Sunday throughout Big Ten play.  Any concern arising from the shaky 7th inning against MSU in the Big Ten tournament should be balanced by her 1.31 ERA for the season (a sterling 0.86 in Big Ten play).

Betsa has been a major contributor to Michigan softball for four years now, pitching meaningful innings, including post-season games, each time around.  She is clearly among the nation’s elite statistically, leading the nation in strike-outs, ranking 3rd in strike-outs per 7 innings, 5th in shut-outs, 8th in saves, and 10th in hits allowed per 7 innings.  Her name is all over the Michigan record book as well, as she currently sits 3rd in career Ks and is tied with Haylie Wagner in 3rd place for career wins at 100 exactly.  Legacies are about more than stats, though, and at the beginning of this season, I proclaimed this the “Year of Betsa”.  A deep post-season run on the strength of her right arm in her final year would provide the perfect cement for her enduring position among the legends of Michigan softball.

Regional Opponents 

After back-to-back seasons hosting regional play, Michigan once again has to hit the road for the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Because of the tournament structure, Fresno State is the only opponent Michigan is guaranteed to face, but at least one showdown with Washington seems very likely, and a clash with Montana could come up as well if there’s an upset somewhere in the bracket.

Fresno State

We’ll start with an overview of Michigan’s Friday night opponent, the Bulldogs of Fresno State.  Despite finishing tied for 3rd in the Mountain West conference (which does not hold a conference tournament), FSU (NTFSU) managed to earn an at-large bid into the field of 64, narrowly edging out conference rivals San Diego State for one of the final spots in the field.  Fresno State challenged themselves in the non-conference schedule, taking on an array of major conference teams.  While they took it on the chin more than once, their aggressive scheduling strategy probably helped secure a spot in the tournament, as they ended the year 6-8 against the RPI top-50, and a highly-successful 5-2 against the RPI 26-50.  This is a team Michigan beats comfortably on a good day, but if there’s any hangover from the disappointment in the Big Ten tournament, they’re good enough to cause problems.

Looking at the Bulldogs’ line-up, the #1 threat is clearly Morgan Howe, who is hitting .438 on the year and slugging well over .600.  She brings a bit of home run power as well, having sent 6 over the wall this year.  After her, Malia Rivers seems to be the other prominent on-base threat, batting .355.  Unlike Howe, though, Rivers hasn’t hit a single homer and only has 4 extra-base hits all season, indicating a singles-based, small-ball profile.  No other Bulldogs are hitting meaningfully over .300, although they do have a few home run threats in Vanessa Hernandez (7 HR), Savannah McHellon (10 HR), and Lindsey Willmon (9 HR).  All three are strike-out-prone, however, especially McHellon, which could spell trouble with Betsa in the circle for the Wolverines.

In the circle, it’s a one-woman show for Fresno State, with the unfortunately-named Kamalani Dung starting more than twice as many games as anyone else and pitching almost 4 times as many innings as the next pitcher in line.  She leads the team with a 2.17 ERA, and her 202/91 K/BB numbers indicate a pitcher who likes to go for the K.  After her, Savannah McHellon sees the most action, but is a major step back.  In addition to her 4.32 ERA, McHellon has exhibited significant control problems, giving up more BBs than she picks up Ks.

Washington

Hosts and headliners of the regional, the Washington Huskies have been a major power at times over the last decade.  2009 National Champions, the Huskies are eager to return to the WCWS for the first time since 2013 (Washington ended the Wolverines’ season that year in a 4-1 affair).  As the #6 national seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, the Huskies will be a formidable opponent for Michigan to try to knock off.  Unlike some power-conference teams, the Huskies took on a decent helping of non-conference challenges, and earned wins against quality opponents including Auburn, Oklahoma, and, notably from a Big Ten perspective, Minnesota – the Gophers fell twice to the Huskies, 3-2 and 9-0.  In the PAC-12, the Huskies faced tough opposition on a weekly basis and earned key series wins against Arizona State, Oregon, and Utah.  They also swept the Crimson Tide during a break from league play.  The Huskies will come into this regional battle-tested and hungry to re-establish themselves among softball’s elite teams.

No one player stands alone atop the Huskies batting order, but with 4 separate players hitting right around .350, there’s plenty of power there.  Casey Stangel and Ali Aguilar are particularly notable in that group, as both have belted double-digit home runs on the year, as has Morganne Flores, a .338 hitter.  Stangel in particular is a bit strike-out prone, so Betsa may be able to exploit that a bit, but she makes up for it by slugging a team-leading .638.  Aguilar is a bit of a sore spot defensively for the Huskies, with 11 errors on the year, but she’s as tough an out as you can ask for at the plate.  Top to bottom, there just aren’t many weak spots in this line-up.  If the expected encounter between Michigan and Washington happens (and it’s likely to happen 2-3 times), the goal will be more to scatter hits than to prevent them entirely.  A few runs are likely to score in any event, so run support will be vital in this one.

In the circle, it’s all about sophomore Taran Alvelo.  Alvelo’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, but they’re very strong, especially when you consider that she’s been handling the bulk of the workload for a PAC-12 team.  With an ERA of 1.90 and a K/BB ratio of 2.57, Alvelo isn’t necessarily a dominating pitcher, but she gets the job done more often than not.  After their ace, the Huskies can trot out either of a pair of very similar back-ups.  Freshman Samantha Manti and junior Madi Schreyer have both started 13 games, and have ERAs at or near 3.  Schreyer has more control problems than Manti, with only 5 fewer BBs than Ks on the year.  This is a set of pitchers that Michigan can hit, but it’s not going to be easy to put up big numbers.  Given the strength of the Washington offense, the Wolverines will have to find a way to string hits together more than once if they want to get out of Seattle with the season still alive.

Montana

Michigan will only face the Grizz in the event of an upset somewhere along the line, but stranger things have happened.  Simply put, Montana is not an especially good softball team.  After finishing 2nd in the Big Sky conference in the regular season, the Grizz beat regular season champions Weber State twice in the conference tournament to secure their spot in the tournament.  Sitting at 124 in the RPI, Montana is an order of magnitude lower down than anyone else in the region, and their schedule gives a clue as to why.  After barely challenging themselves at all in the non-conference schedule (a couple of Ws over UNLV were the closest things they had to signature wins), they were pretty average in conference play as well, only sweeping two opponents prior to the conference tournament.  This looks to be a classic case of a team from a weak conference who is mainly just happy to be here.

Montana does have a pair of decent hitters atop their stat sheet, with Bethany Olea and Delene Colburn both hitting over .400 – Colburn has also jacked 14 long balls on the season.  No one else is hitting much over .300, however, and only one other player (Sydney Stites) has more than 5 homers.  Michaela Hood is the usual starter in the circle, and her 2.15 ERA and better than 3-1 K/BB ratio are respectable.  Colleen Driscoll and Maddy Stensby are the other two prominent pitchers, both putting up fairly non-descript numbers – Driscoll is a bit better overall, but more likely to give up a dinger.  Severe strength of schedule caveats apply to all these numbers, of course.  If Michigan ends up facing Montana and struggles much at all, it should be considered a major warning sign for what’s to come.

Overall

This is about as good of a situation as Michigan could have asked for after flaming out against MSU in the conference tournament.  True, it’s a tougher regional to get shipped to than some we’ve seen in the past, but it’s still a winnable one – we’re not talking about getting sent to Florida or Arizona here.  What’s more, if the team does advance, the most likely opponent would be the Utah Utes, who had an up-and-down non-conference season before picking up some impressive wins in PAC-12 play, highlighted by a 3-game sweep of UCLA and a series win over Arizona.  A trip back to the WCWS is still very much in play, but the team needs to leave their struggles behind and fire on all cylinders.  More than anything, the Wolverines will need their senior ace to deliver the best performance of her career.  If that happens, a trip to Oklahoma City for the 3rd straight year could still beckon for Team 40.

An MGoBlog / Softball Thank You

An MGoBlog / Softball Thank You

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on June 5th, 2016 at 3:33 PM

In the wake of today's heartbreaker against FSU, I'd like if I may to extend a few "thank you"s here at the end of the 2016 softball season.

First, a massive thank you to all of the players, and especially the seniors.  They've given us so much to cheer, shout, and laugh about over the last few years, and did so during a time when not a lot else in the Athletic Department was doing so.  We just watched the final performance of Sierra Romero, the best there ever was, but there's a whole team around her as well that has been absolutely outstanding.  The magnitude of the disappointment today is 100% a factor of how much they've made us expect of them.

Second, a huge thank you from me personally to MGoBlog.  Brian, for giving me the space to publish my pieces about the team here, and Seth & Bryan Fuller for helping me out a lot with my post-season articles.  As I've mentioned before, when I was a kid it was always my dream to works in sports media (I wanted to be an announcer, and drove my parents nuts by commentating on my EA Sports video games).  My career has gone a different way, but it's been a privilege to get to play around a little with that dream from years ago.

Finally, thank you to all of you nuts who have packed the game threads from day 1 all the way up through the last out in OKC.  It's great to have a community here that share my off-beat passion for college softball.  We'll all be coming together again pretty soon come February.

Go Blue, and Hail to the Victors.

Softball Super-Regional Preview

Softball Super-Regional Preview

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on May 26th, 2016 at 9:29 AM

[Ed-S: We asked SBW to cover one of the best teams in Michigan sports history. Previously: Postseason primer]

All photos from Bryan Fuller

Regional Review

The Ann Arbor regional featured one of the more noteworthy upsets of the opening weekend of the NCAA softball tournament.  Fortunately for Michigan, it didn’t happen to us.  The Maize & Blue marched through the regional with relative ease, not quite hitting on all cylinders, but never seriously threatened either.  Before looking ahead to the upcoming super-regional showdown with the Missouri Tigers, let’s take a quick look back at how Michigan became one of 16 teams in the nation lucky enough to go to practice this week.

Valparaiso

The Wolverines started the weekend off against a Valparaiso team still trying to figure out just how they found their way into the tournament in the first place.  With a record well below .500, the Horizon League tournament champions were one of the strangest sights in regional play in years.  Michigan didn’t wait long to get on the board, with senior super-star Sierra Romero lining what’s known in Ann Arbor as a “Rom-Bomb” over the wall in the first inning.  In addition to giving Michigan an early lead, the solo shot gave Romero her 300th career RBI.  The Wolverines added a couple more in the 2nd, but were not able to fully solve Valpo’s pitching until the 5th inning, when all Hell broke loose.  5 singles earned Michigan 3 runs and brought about a pitching change.  The change didn’t help, as the relief pitcher walked the next three batters on only 14 pitches to drive in the game-ending runs.  Megan Betsa was majestic in the circle, ceding just one hit and one walk while piling up 9 Ks in the 8-0 run-rule walkover.

Miami (NTM)

On Saturday, Michigan was expecting a tougher challenge, and they got one from an unexpected source.  Instead of the presumptive challenger Notre Dame, the Maize & Blue had to square off against Miami (NTM), who had upset the Irish with a controversial 3-2 win on Friday.  Betsa was again phenomenal, but the story of the early part of the game was Redhawks hurler Amber Logemann, who didn’t allow a hit until the 4th inning.  In the 4th, though, Michigan showed a tendency familiar to anyone who watched the 2015 NCAA tournament.  A good pitcher can get through Michigan’s order once, maybe twice.  After that, though, the offense starts to lock in on tendencies & weaknesses, and the runs can come in bunches.  2 runs in the 4th led to 4 more in the 6th, and Michigan finally had the breathing room they wanted.  Hutch took advantage of the extra cushion, resting ace Megan Betsa for the rest of the game.  After a wobbly start put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Driesenga retired the next 6 batters she faced on 6 consecutive ground-outs, securing a 6-0 win.

Notre Dame

To no one’s surprise, the Irish shook off their Friday funk and emerged from the losers’ bracket to face Michigan in the regional final on Sunday.  The Irish have seen their season end in Ann Arbor again and again in recent years, and would need to take 2 in a row from #2 Michigan to avoid the same fate in 2016.  Sierra Romero sent a message early on that the “luck of the Irish” wasn’t going to apply in Ann Arbor, getting her money’s worth on her 300th career hit, launching a first-inning long ball for the 2nd time on the weekend (the blast was also good for her 299th career run scored, extending her own NCAA record).  Another Sierra home run, this one from Sierra Lawrence, put Michigan up 2-0, but an unexpected blast from Irish lead-off hitter Karley Wester trimmed the lead back down to 1.  Again it took a few innings for Michigan’s bats to acquire target-lock, but when the Irish gifted Romero 1st base on an error to start the 5th, the Wolverines were determined to take advantage.  A bunt single & a walk loaded the bases, and singles from Aidan Falk and Lindsay Montemarano stretched the lead to 6-1.  The Irish would get one back in the 6th, but never seriously threatened to catch up to the heavy favorites.

On the weekend, Michigan outscored their opponents a combined 20-2.  On a historical note, Sierra Romero joined the extremely exclusive 300/300 club (hits & RBIs), and moved to just one run away from creating an entirely new 300/300/300 club (hits, RBIs, & runs-scored).  For a team of Michigan’s caliber, the victories were expected, and celebrations were moderate compared to scenes around the country.  The Wolverines will not be satisfied with anything less than a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, and they know that just one team stands between them and that goal.

[Hit THE JUMP for a Super-regional preview]

Hutch Stands Alone

Hutch Stands Alone

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on April 2nd, 2016 at 2:53 PM

Michigan walked all over Indiana today, taking home an 8-0 run-rule win in 5 innings.  We could talk about the Sierras setting the table time and again, both reaching base in every single opportunity.  We could talk about Betsa, who had one of her strongest performances of the season, fanning 9 while conceding no runs.  But today, it's all about Carol Hutchins.  She stands alone now as the winngest coach in softball history.  She'll want to keep the focus on the next game, but we can afford to take a few moments to commemorate one of the greatest achievements in Michigan athletics history.  Congratulations, Hutch!

The Sierra Era: Romero leaves lasting legacy

The Sierra Era: Romero leaves lasting legacy

Submitted by justingoblue on March 19th, 2016 at 12:16 PM

The title seems very premature at first, until the end where Christner and a couple other players are quoted about the sheer volume of leadership Romero has brought to the team in her four years at Michigan, and that her legacy will be the impact she's had on the program independant of statistics and wins.

The author makes the obvious and immediate comparison of Romero to Hutch, and while that's the clearest there are other M connections just as easily made. Personally I got Harbaugh for the player/coach relationship and single minded intensity, Denard for the snowball fights on visits and the majority of us for M love at first sight from an early age.

Definitely worth a read, even if there's way too much unfinished business for a retrospective yet.

lol:

Asked about her first impressions of Romero, Falk grins and laughs before giving her answer — an answer that suggests Romero and Hutchins possess the same type of on-the-field presence.

“I was intimidated — hands-down intimidated,” Falk recalls. “She has a very fierce look on her face when she plays, and I was like, ‘Oh, this girl is going to be terrifying.’ ”

Just before Falk finishes, the door opens, and Romero herself walks in. She’s followed by a procession of several teammates, who file in and sit down next to Falk. Romero, though, heads to the side, out of view. As Falk talks about Romero, about her leadership, batting advice and the impromptu dance sessions the two occasionally hold during batting practice, the senior shortstop is within earshot.

When Falk finishes talking, the attention turns to Romero.

At first glance, it’s not clear what had Falk so intimidated. Romero is relatively small in stature, standing at 5-foot-5, and her facial expression is neutral.

She is asked about her mindset going into the fourth at-bat of a recent game against Florida State, after she had struck out three consecutive times, and the room falls silent. Intentional or not, the intimidation Falk recalled is apparent now. The calm vibe of the room is gone, and Romero now stares straight ahead.

“Swing the bat.”

The room remains silent for a couple seconds. Her teammates glance at her, and then break out into laughter.

Sierra Romero is here, and you’ve just been introduced.

https://www.michigandaily.com/section/softball/sierra-romero-michigan-softball-legacy-carol-hutchins

Michigan Softball 2016 Season Preview

Michigan Softball 2016 Season Preview

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 9th, 2016 at 2:00 PM

[Bumped (and added some photos) because it's good and so is our softball team. --Seth]

http://media.mlive.com/ann-arbor_photos/photo/17263168-standard.jpg

Sprinkle the cheese

It’s hard to put the experience of Michigan’s 2015 softball season into words.  It was totally unique in so many ways.  Michigan fans were desperate for something to go right after hockey, basketball, and football all came up well short of pre-season expectations.  Jim Harbaugh was making headlines, but concrete results were still months away, and the Michigan community was still convalescing from its long bout of Brandonitis.  It was the perfect time for niche sport to make a bid for mainstream status, as fans needed something, anything to go right, to make things feel like Michigan again.

Into this void stepped a group of twenty young women, swinging bats and making pizza as they blasted their way through the country and the Big Ten, into the record books and Maize and Blue hearts nationwide.  The team combined absurd offensive production and strong pitching with an unmatched rootability factor.  Whether on TV or in person, this team was fun.  When Lauren Haeger’s Gators bounced them in the last game of the season, it felt like an injustice, just like Trey Burke missing out on his crown or the Legend of Shawn Hunwick falling short against Minnesota-Duluth.

The difference between those crimes and this one, however, is that Michigan has a chance to put things right.  Almost everyone is back from the 2015 squad, and there’s no question that they’ve been working harder than ever all offseason to earn what was denied them a year ago.  It’s a new year with fresh faces and stiff competition, but this is a team on a mission.  Below, we’ll break down roster changes, offense and defense, and the opposition Michigan will face in the season ahead.  2016 isn’t going to be 2015 all over again, and Hutch and her crew are smart enough not to try to make it that.  It just might be a little bit better.

[Hit THE JUMP to see what that team lost and what to expect from this one]

Hutchins challenges No. 2-ranked UM softball team

Hutchins challenges No. 2-ranked UM softball team

Submitted by justingoblue on February 8th, 2016 at 9:58 PM

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.

Link.

Softball thrashes Spartans in fall ball finale

Softball thrashes Spartans in fall ball finale

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on October 8th, 2015 at 1:39 AM

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!