Softball Run-Rules PSU 8-0

Softball Run-Rules PSU 8-0

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on March 25th, 2017 at 3:35 PM

Michigan softball won for the second time in as many days at Alumni Field, whalloping the Penn State Nittany Lions 8-0 in a 5-inning, rule-run beatdown.  After struggling to get the offense going yesterday, the bats were blazing hot today.  Michigan jumped right on top of Penn State, scoring 3 in the bottom of the first, and put up crooked numbers in the 3rd & 4th as well - they didn't even need to bat in the 5th to secure the win.

Faith Canfield was the driving force on offense today, going 2-for-3, including a solo home run and a two-run triple.  She also scored the run to put the game into run-rule territory, motoring home after the PSU pitcher lost control of one.

In the circle, Tera Blanco was in command.  She pitched all 5 innings and allowed 2 hits.  Some control issues did crop up, as she issued 4 walks and a HBP, but she still managed to keep the goose egg on the board.

The two teams will square off again tomorrow at 1, as Michigan looks to keep pace with the conference leaders in the standings.

Softball Shuts Out PSU in Big Ten Lid-lifter

Softball Shuts Out PSU in Big Ten Lid-lifter

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on March 24th, 2017 at 6:05 PM

Megan Betsa continued her stellar play in Michigan softball's Big Ten opener at Alumni Field today, weed-whacking her way through the Nittany Lions line-up to the tune of 14 Ks, while allowing only 3 hits and 1 walk, all of which came in separate innings.  An error in the 2nd allowed Penn State to briefly threaten, but Betsa came back with a K to slam the door.

The offensive struggles, unfortunately, continued in the early going, as the Wolverines were unable to put anything together in the first 4 innings.  Courtney Richardson broke the deadlock in the 5th with her 2nd home run of the year.  After a Natalie Peters hit and a wild-pitch, a bad-hop-single off the bat of Faith Canfield put the Maize & Blue up 2-0.  The Wolverines added one more the 6th, and that was more than enough for the senior ace to cruise home in the 7th.

Michigan takes their first game of league play 3-0.  They'll face Penn State twice more this weekend, on Saturday at 2 PM and on Sunday at 1 PM.  You may want to keep an eye on the Minnesota/Nebraska series as well, which will start in just a few minutes.

Softball Sneaks Past NMSU 5-4

Softball Sneaks Past NMSU 5-4

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 24th, 2017 at 3:28 PM

Softball's struggles continued today on the West Coast, but fortunately did not prove costly.  Blanco had a bumpy ride as the starting pitcher against New Mexico State, with 3 earned runs charged the her name in just 3 innings of work.  Betsa came in facing a serious jam & pushed a few runners across on free passes, but settled in and delivered 4 innings of hitless ball to give the Wolverines a chance.

Offensively, it was all about the top of the order.  Peters & Ramirez both got two hits, and those hits turned into 4 runs as Kelly Christner drove them both home twice.  In the 3rd, Christner gave Michigan the lead with a 2 RBI bloop single, and in the 6th, Christner launched a 3-run blast to put Michigan ahead for good.  The rest of the offense was stagnant, as the 4-9 hitters never reached base once against the Aggies.

At the end of the day, it's a win coming off a long flight & a time-zone change.  With match-ups against 3 ranked teams looming in the next 2 days, though, Team 40 will need to elevate their game in order to get what they want out of this road trip.

Betsa, Christner Combine to Crush NC State

Betsa, Christner Combine to Crush NC State

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 17th, 2017 at 7:10 PM

The softball team was back in action tonight, but didn't play for all that long.  The Wolverines hamblasted the NC State Wolfpack 12 -0 in a 5 inning, run-rule decision.  Betsa led the way in the circle, striking out 9 in 4 innings of work, ceding just one hit and no runs before handing things off to sophomore Leah Crockett in the fifth.

Betsa's first-rate pitching was overshadowed, however, by a performance for the ages at the dish by Kelly Christner.  Christner turned a 4-run lead into a blow-out in the 2nd inning with a grand slam, and that was just the beginning.  Christner came back with a solo shot in the 4th and a 2-run blast in the fifth to make it three long balls on the day.  The three homers tie a program single-game record, as Christner becomes the first Wolverine since Dorian Shaw to manage the feat.

Michigan will get an early start tomorrow, facing Notre Dame at 10 AM, followed by a 3 PM rematch with this same NCSU squad.

Softball Team 40 Wins Opener [Update: Wins Game 2 Also]

Softball Team 40 Wins Opener [Update: Wins Game 2 Also]

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 10th, 2017 at 2:11 PM

Team 40 opened their season today with a 7-0 thumping of an over-matched Delaware squad.  Just missing out on a run-rule win, the Wolverines got production from all up & down the order.  Newcomers to the line-up Natalie Peters & Courtney Richardson both impressed.  Meanwhile, Megan Betsa was absolutely dazzling in the circle, getting 15 of her 21 outs via the strike-out.  Game 2 against Illinois State just now getting underway.

Season preview will be up soon - technical difficulties with the photos have it delayed at the moment.

Update: Michigan wins game 2 over Illinois State 4-2 behind a solid performance from Tera Blanco.  The offense was a bit sluggish, but Courtney Richardson's 3-run homer put Michigan up by multiple runs, and Blanco made it hold up.  One mistake by Blanco turned into an ISU 2-run homer, but outside of that, she did an excellent job shutting down a tough line-up.

Softball ranked #6 in both polls

Softball ranked #6 in both polls

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on January 31st, 2017 at 1:45 PM

Both the USA/NFCA Coaches poll and the ESPN/USA Softball poll came out today, and our women are slotted at #6 in both.  I have to admit that I find this a little optimistic, given how much talent we just graduated, but we've still got a great team.  Hopefully we'll be able to stay in that top-8 & remain on track to host a super-regional.

Other teams of interest include #4/#3 Florida, #3/#4 Florida State, #8/#8 UCLA, #19/#18 Texas A&M, #20/#20 Kentucky, #21/#21 Baylor, #22/#22 Notre Dame, #25/#24 USF, RV/RV Arizona State, and RV/RV Cal State Fullerton, all of whom Michigan will see at least once in the non-conference schedule.

In the Big Ten, Michigan will be keeping a close eye on #16/#14 Minnesota, our toughest challenger for conference hardware, although once again we won't play head to head in the regular season.  Nebraska and OSU both received votes in both polls, and Northwestern got a few from the coaches.

First pitch is just ten days away, and we've got yet another top-ten Michigan team with Carol Hutchins at the helm.  Full season preview will go up within the week.

Softball 2017 Schedule Released

Softball 2017 Schedule Released

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on November 29th, 2016 at 3:03 PM

Something to look forward to after all the glumness in these parts over the last few days: the schedule for softball's Team 40 is up, and it's packed with good stuff.

The Wolverines waste no time in challenging themselves, taking on perennial powerhouse Florida on just the 2nd day of the season.  Stern tests against UCLA, FSU, and ASU, as well as challenges from major confernece foes like ND, NC State, Baylor, Kentucky, and Texas A&M lie in wait throughout the non-conference schedule.  As always, the Wolverines like to challenge themselves early & often, and 2017 will be no exception.

The Big Ten schedule is a bit of a mixed bag.  Once again, the geniuses at Big Ten HQ failed to schedule a regular season showdown between the conference's top two teams, Michigan & Minnesota.  The rest of Michigan's opponents are spread fairly evenly throughout last year's standings, so it's neither a top nor bottom heavy slate overall.

There's additional excitement in store at Alumni Field, though, as Michigan has been tapped to host the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since its revival a few years ago.  May 11-13 will be a great chance to watch a ton of softball in Ann Arbor, and hopefully to see the Wolverines hoist a trophy at home!

Paging MGoSoftball (& friends): how have the ladies looked in fall ball?

Paging MGoSoftball (& friends): how have the ladies looked in fall ball?

Submitted by DowntownLJB on October 13th, 2016 at 4:33 PM

I don't see much information on mgoblue.com about the women's softball fall ball games.  I'm hoping someone (MGoSoftball or others) have been following how the ladies have looked this fall as Team 40.  I know they beat MSU the other night - I think the final was 6-4 - and played another half dozen games or so (no results on the schedule on the team site).

Are Betsa/Blanco splitting pitching duties? 

How do the bats look without the Sierras leading off the line up?

Who's taking over fielding spots for the departed seniors in the field (2/3 of the outfield and 2nd base, as I'm recalling right now)?

How do the freshmen look?

 

The bye week feels like a good time to catch up on another favorite M sport.

 

 

 

Game-Changer

Game-Changer

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on July 5th, 2016 at 1:20 PM

Game-Changer

Photo credit for all images: Bryan Fuller

October is one of the most crowded months in the athletic year.  Football is in full swing, hockey is starting up, baseball is coming to its dramatic conclusion.  Only a select few are even aware of the fact that softball is being played at this time of year, much less follow the results or attend the games.  A handful of exhibitions, usually rote walkovers of overmatched opponents, transpire in almost total obscurity, coming and going almost entirely unnoticed.  It was in this shadowy environment that Sierra Romero first took the field wearing the Maize & Blue.

Rather than the usual walk through, on October 4, 2012, Michigan took on a uniquely challenging foe in exhibition play.  Instead of blowing out a directional school, the Wolverines faced off against an all-star team drawn from the National Pro Fastpitch league.  The pros had been playing college teams for 3 years, losing just once.  Down 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, facing off against a pitcher from the reigning NPF champion team, Sierra Romero stepped into the Alumni Field batter’s box and launched a blast over the wall, tying the game at 2 apiece, setting the stage for an eventual 3-2 Michigan win.  Even among the few who attended or knew about the event, hardly any would have dared to hope what a regular sight a Romero home run, or “Rom-bomb” as they came to be known, would be.  Even fewer could have imagined what a transformative effect the diminutive freshman would have on the Michigan program over the next four years.

To the extent that any softball player in 2012 could arrive with recruiting hype, Sierra Romero certainly did.  Romero dominated the California softball scene as a high school player, the equivalent of dominating Texas or Florida in football, and was one of the most sought-after players in the country.  Although she could have named her position on any team in the country, Sierra only took one campus visit – to Ann Arbor, in the dead of winter.  Her interest in Michigan had been sparked years earlier, when she attended a Michigan game on one of our many road trips to the West Coast.  Romero saw the fire in head coach Carol Hutchins eyes as she stood up to the umpire for her team, and knew that that was someone she wanted to be around.  She couldn’t be sure, though, until she saw the Ann Arbor winter in its full fury, so she took her one recruiting visit in the midst of the snowiest part of the year.  Unusually for a California girl, she wasn’t only undeterred, she fell in love with the school, the city, and the coach instantaneously.

It didn’t take long for the small community of devoted Michigan softball fans to start falling in love with Sierra Romero either.  Following her fall-ball heroics, Romero hit her first home run in just her second game, the first of her NCAA-record 11 career grand slams, as Michigan blew out the FAU Owls 10-2 in 5 innings.  In her first series at Alumni Field she introduced herself to the home fans in style, eviscerating Purdue with a 7-7 performance on the weekend.  She never looked back from that fast start, blasting her way to the top of Michigan’s stat sheet as a true freshman.  Romo, as she quickly became known in order to distinguish her from another freshman star, Sierra Lawrence, hit .379 in 2013, and reached base over half the time she stepped to the plate.  For most players, these would be solid career marks to aspire to as a senior.  For Romero, they were a starting point.  Even more stunning were her school record 23 home runs, including a game-winning 2-run blast in the Women’s College World Series off former national champion Dallas Escobedo in the wee hours of the morning.  The post-season awards piled up quickly, as Romero garnered First Team All-Big Ten and Second Team All-American honors, was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year, and finished in the top ten for the National Player of the Year award.  After less than a year as an Ann Arbor resident, the girl from Murietta had already cemented her name among the legends of Michigan softball.

Hutchins and Romero, coach and player, both legends.

Sierra never intended to just be one among many, however, not even one legend among others.  Carol Hutchins has often described Romero’s intense, laser-like focus as one of her most outstanding traits, and as a sophomore she turned that focus towards the goal of becoming the greatest ever to wear the Maize & Blue.  As a sophomore, Romo started the season off with a bang.  Her first hit of the season was a grand slam against a top-5 Florida team (Michigan would eventually lose in an extra-innings heartbreaker).  As the season progressed, Romero hit the cover off the ball as Michigan racked up wins over a handful of ranked teams in the non-conference schedule, and headlined the batting order throughout a 20-game winning streak leading into a key conference series against #12 Minnesota at Alumni Field.

While the Wolverines would take the series 2 games to 1, a 1-0 Friday loss to the Golden Gophers kicked off a troubling trend, as the team would end up dropping 4 straight Friday games to end the season, including an inexplicable 10-2 run-rule loss to a dismal Illinois team.  The Friday losses combined with an extra innings defeat at the hands of Wisconsin in the final game of the season to force the Wolverines to share the Big Ten regular season crown with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Michigan would reach the Tournament championship game, but fell again to Minnesota.  The late season slump cost Michigan more than just a trophy – it also meant that the Wolverines, in position for a super-regional seed for much of the season, suddenly found themselves travelling to the blistering heat of Tempe, Arizona for a regional.  While the regional final would feature one of the most thrilling games in school history, Michigan would eventually go down in 3 games to the Florida State Seminoles in the supers, missing out on a trip to Oklahoma City.

During these stumbles, Romero seemed impervious to the team’s struggles.  She spent almost the entire season with a batting average over .500, finishing at .491 solely because she was violently ill during the Tempe regional (and even then, she managed to play stout defense throughout the weekend in 100-degree temperatures).  While her home run numbers dipped slightly, down to 18 on the season, she cut her strike-outs almost in half, added 18 points to her fielding percentage, and reached base a staggering 63.3% of the time she stepped up to bat.  Her sterling numbers earned her a pile of post-season awards, including a second Big Ten Player of the Year award and First-Team All-American honors.  Even more impressively, as a sophomore she earned a personal trip to Oklahoma City as one of the three finalists for the National Player of the Year award, handed out each year before the Women’s College World Series.

That ball is going to travel a long way very quickly.

As great of an honor as that trip was, Romero made it known that it hadn’t felt quite right to her.  She was happy to travel to Oklahoma City, but she had never wanted to make the trip without the rest of her team, and without a chance to play in the games.  In 2015, the goals were simple: reclaim sole possession of the Big Ten Championship and return to the WCWS, this time with the whole team.  For the junior team leader, individual awards were not going to be enough anymore.  After a tight 2-1 loss to reigning national champions Florida, the Wolverines rattled off 19 straight wins to start the season, including taking 2 apiece from #6 FSU, #3 Alabama, and #21 ASU, all on the home turf of these highly-ranked foes.  By the time conference play rolled around, Michigan had piled up 25 wins to just 4 losses, and proceeded to open up the Big Ten season by taking 3 games from Ohio State by a combined score of 46-2.

The record was eye-catching, and the stats were as well.  Michigan was among the top teams in the country in most offensive categories, and Romero led the way.  Her average numbers were almost as good as in 2014, and she had her long-ball swagger back as well.  Even more noticeable, however, was the unique esprit de corps displayed in “the year of the pizza”.  Michigan’s unique celebrations (rolling the dough at 1st base, sprinkling the cheese at 2nd, spreading the toppings at 3rd, and taking a chomp at home plate) were contagious, and soon became the talk of softball nation.  As the Wolverines rose in the rankings, their infectious joy started to turn heads around Ann Arbor, a town in desperate need of some on-field success at that point in time.  A pair of mid-season stumbles against Iowa and Minnesota did little to slow the big Blue juggernaut, as the Wolverines lost only one game in April and none in May, blazing their way to Big Ten regular season & tournament championships, a #3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, and regional & super-regional crowns.  Statistical markers fell as well, as the team shattered the program record for home runs in a season.

In the midst of this run of dominance, during which Michigan won most of their games in mercy-rule fashion, Romero actually experienced what Hutch termed a “Sierra Slump” (a statistical situation most players would kill to achieve).  Hitting only in the high .300s for much of the Big Ten season, Romero controversially lost out on the Big Ten Player of the Year award for the first time in her career, as Minnesota’s Sara Groenewegen took home the hardware.  Romero still earned First Team All-Big Ten and All-American honors, however, and was invited back to Oklahoma City as a top-3 finalist for National Player of the Year for the second year running.  Even more importantly, she got to bring her whole team along for the ride.  In OKC, Romero played a central role in the Wolverines trip to the Championship series against the Florida Gators, highlighted by a game-tying home run against LSU in the national semifinal.

While the Wolverines came up a game short of national glory and Romero lost out on individual glory to Florida’s Lauren Haeger, the 2015 campaign had brought about a sea-change in Ann Arbor’s relationship to its softball team.  Before the year of the pizza, even big, late-season games would reliably have outfield seats available day-of, game threads topped out at a couple dozen posts, and only the dedicated hard core fans even knew the names of the stars.  2015 changed all that.  Names like Sierra Romero, Sierra Lawrence, and Megan Betsa became household names overnight, games against nobodies like Rutgers sold out in advance, and an entirely new level of media focus descended upon the team.  Heading into the new season, team 39 had a unique burden: pressure.  No Michigan softball team had ever faced such high expectations or such public scrutiny, and no player ever faced higher demands than Romo.

Romero at her happiest: winning with her team.

A dispiriting 8-0 loss to nemesis Florida during the season’s opening weekend, a string of too-narrow wins, and pitching questions combined to cast doubts as to whether the team and their once in a generation leader were up to the task.  Steadily, though, the team warmed to the task, and steadily Romero’s numbers started creeping back up to her usual lofty standards.  Despite the setback against Florida, the Wolverines entered Big Ten play with only 2 losses on the year, both to top-10 teams, and after a wacky 13-12 loss in the conference opener, the pitching settled back in as well.  With the Golden Gophers hot on their heels, the Wolverines, led by their star, laid waste to the Big Ten, claiming their 9th straight conference crown.  Romero reclaimed her Big Ten Player of the Year throne as well, tying the all-time record with 3 such awards.

The Big Ten awards were just the beginning for the senior from California, as just about every possible accolade in the sport was thrown at Romero.  Most importantly, for the third straight year, Romero made the trip to Oklahoma City as a National Player of the Year finalist, and for the second-straight year, she got to bring her team with her.  When she sat in that room in Oklahoma and heard her name read out as the winner of the highest individual award the sport has to offer, surrounded by her coaches and teammates, there was no question left.  In the face (and with the privilege) of the most pressure and highest expectations any player in program history had been asked to bear, Romero had delivered.  The disappointment of falling short of a national championship should, in the long run, do nothing to diminish her staggering achievements.

When I sat down to write this piece, I thought I would tell the story of one player, and figured I would draw on my usual reserve of statistics to paint the picture.  I thought I’d end it with a nice list of Romero’s achievements, like becoming the first member of the 300/300/300 club (hits, RBIs, runs), the all-time grand slam leader, and so on.  What I’ve ended up with is as much the story of a team and its fans over the course of 4 years as the tale of a single star.  In the end, perhaps that is the most fitting way to tell Romero’s story.  When she set the Michigan single-season home run record as a freshman, she proclaimed the achievement “an honor”, but declared in the same breath that it was “not what I came here to do.”  Romero didn’t just come to Michigan to be the greatest, although she certainly was.  She came to Michigan to help take Michigan softball to a new level, on the field and in the community.  If you want to know whether she accomplished that goal, you can see it in her teammates who are better because they played with her.  You can see it in the sold out crowds at Alumni Field.  And one day, not so very far from today, you’ll be able to see it when a young woman comes to play for Michigan because she grew up wanting to be just like Romo.

Alumni Field packed to capacity.