By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 21, 2013
In a game of pure physics, the blink of an eye or a misread curve could be the difference between a win and loss for the Michigan softball team. Just ask sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet.
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Behind the plate, Sweet’s responsibilities go beyond catching a ball and throwing it back to the pitcher. Catchers must be able to keep the ball in front of them at all times, even in the case of a wild pitch. Sweet has been a brick wall for the Wolverines, committing just five errors in her role as starting catcher — just three all last season. She completed her freshman season with a Big Ten Freshman of the Week award and a .988 fielding percentage. Inside the batter’s box, she finished her freshman campaign with a .277 batting average.
And while she may have to scream a little louder through the face mask, Sweet has the responsibility of calling out the count and calming her pitcher down when the opponents reach base.
“I’ll go out there (to the circle) and remind (the pitcher), ‘Hey, it’s just you and me. Just think about it in the bullpen as if it were just you and me,’ ” Sweet said.
When sophomore pitchers Sara Driesenga and Haley Wagner hurl a softball upwards of 70 miles per hour towards home plate, Sweet’s glove has been there to absorb the blow. In the trio’s freshman season, Sweet started 56 games — 50 as catcher for Wagner or Driesenga.
As one of Michigan coach Carol Hutchins’s smallest and most exciting recruiting class, Sweet, Wagner and Driesenga carried the Wolverines to a Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the NCAA regional final.
“They’re very different pitchers,” Sweet said. “I’ve gotten a lot more used to them this year because I’ve been playing with them for a year now.”
With Wagner’s early-season injury, Sweet has had an opportunity to catch Driesenga almost exclusively. Driesenga — recently named NFCA National Player of the Week — has excelled this season, pitching her first career no-hitter and boasting a 1.48 ERA.
“We both have great confidence in each other and we complement each other so well,” Driesenga said.
The two California natives began their pitcher-catcher relationship in high school. Four years later, their comfort level with one another is apparent on the field.
Moving forward into the Big Ten season, the challenge for Sweet and her pitchers will be to keep hitters on their heals.
“It allows the team day after day to adjust to the other, so it makes for a tough series,” Hutchins said.
Added Sweet: “It takes a lot of work when the hitters know what the pitchers throw. It takes a lot more effort from both the pitcher and the catcher, and even the coaches in calling the pitches.”
The Wolverines will face their first Big Ten challenge in their home opener against Purdue.
For Sweet, a second challenge of the weekend may be the running game. Purdue junior outfielder Lindsay Rains — who leads the Boilermakers in slugging percentage — has stolen 25 of 27 bases this season, while fifth-year senior infielder Molly Garst leads the team in steals with 28. Thus far, Sweet has caught five runners in stealing.