By the time the weekend is over, the No. 14 Michigan softball team will have made two trips to Florida, logged 18 hours of flight time, taken on eight opponents and played in three doubleheaders in just nine days. Fresh off a 3-1 record during the first weekend of the season, the Wolverines return to the Sunshine State this weekend to take on Toledo, LIU Brooklyn, Maryland and Massachusetts in the FAU Kickoff Classic in Boca Raton.
Highlights of the opening weekend included 23 innings on the mound from sophomore pitcher Sara Driesenga, along with an offensive spark from freshman shortstop Sierra Romero. Romero’s two home runs — which included a grand slam — and nine RBI earned her Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
“If you saw (Romero) play at all this fall, you wouldn’t have to ask why she’s starting,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She has the right mentality. Sierra Romero is very capable of helping us win.”
Romero was one of five Michigan freshmen to make her debut last weekend. Freshman Sierra Lawrence started all four games as well, beginning the weekend in left field before spending time at second base. Freshman utility fielder Kelsey Susalla, freshman outfielder Mary Sbonek and freshman right-hander Alice Fitzpatrick also earned playing time in the field.
“We work together really well and so even though we do have a young team, everyone is equal on the team,” said senior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield. “Freshman or not, it’s not like one person is more important than the next.”
Added Hutchins: “I tell the freshmen I want them to have a mentality of being here to play and say ‘I’m here to play, I’m here to compete and I’m here to help Michigan. You don’t come onto the team and take a year off because you’re a freshman. You only get four years. Don’t waste them.”
Missing from last weekend’s lineup was sophomore pitcher and reigning Big Ten freshman of the year Haley Wagner. The left-hander has been nursing an undisclosed injury and will remain on the bench this weekend.
But given the versatility of many of the Wolverines, their freshman class included, Hutchins has an opportunity to mix and match the lineup early on in the season.
“(Haley’s) absence gives us a chance to rely on (Driesenga) in a role that is good for her to experience,” Hutchins said. “The lineup evolves with the season. We’re fairly settled at most positions, but first is evolving along with right and left field. We’re giving opportunities to different people. I think competition’s good. They’ve been pushing each other.”
While the lineup will remain largely in tact for the upcoming series, Hutchins expects Fitzpatrick to get more time on the mound behind Driesenga this weekend.
Michigan will play two doubleheaders, beginning Saturday with Toledo and LIU Brooklyn and ending with Maryland and Massachusetts Sunday. This weekend will mark the season kickoff for three of the Wolverines’ four opponents. LIU Brooklyn comes in with an 0-4 record.