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Michigan one win from Big Ten title

By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 2, 2013

The Michigan softball team is only one win away from clinching its sixth consecutive Big Ten title, and it got some advice from an unlikely source this week at practice — Michigan swimming and diving coach Mike Bottom.

Bottom, who won a national championship on March 29, came by Wednesday to observe the Wolverines’ practice. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins saw him and asked him to share some words with her team.

“He just basically told them to smile,” Hutchins said. “Put their chests up, be proud and embrace the moment.”

But it will take more than smiles and pride to bring home another Big Ten title. The 10th-ranked Wolverines know that now, after losing their most recent series to Nebraska, in which they dropped two games and snapped their 22-game winning streak.

No other program in the nation has won its conference six times in a row. Michigan’s first chance to make history by doing so will be Friday evening when it hosts the first game of a three-game series against Northwestern.

Despite a disappointed overall showing against the Cornhuskers, one player who the Wolverines hope will have continued success this coming weekend against the Wildcats is sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet. Sweet, who was hitting just .071 with three RBI during the first half of the season, has turned things around since conference play began. She went 6-for-7 in the series against Nebraska with two home runs and six runs driven in — including the game-winning RBI on Saturday — earning her the Big Ten Player of the Week award. The catcher is batting .468 in Big Ten play and .286 overall on the season.

But Michigan (17-2 Big Ten, 41-9 overall) will need to improve in the circle too, in order to handle a Northwestern lineup that features two big bats. Wolverine pitchers gave up 16 runs against the Cornhuskers in a three-game series — more than they gave up the previous five games combined. The maize and blue will look to get more out of sophomore right-hander Sara Driesenga and sophomore left-hander Haylie Wagner. The two have been stellar in almost every outing, owning a 1.87 and 2.29 ERA, respectively.

“(Driesenga) just needs to stay focused on one pitch,” Hutchins said. “(Wagner) just simply needs to improve on her attitude. She has had a tough go, and she’s got to put it behind her and try to come out and just try to help us win and approach it with a tough approach.”

The Wildcats (12-7, 30-18) are led by sophomore Amy Letourneau and junior Mari Majam. Letourneau is hitting .386 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI. She is also the team’s best pitcher. She’s posted a 20-10 record and struck out 264 batters in 193.2 innings. Majam, who bats in the two-spot in the order, is hitting .356 this season (57-for-160) and also has 12 stolen bases this year.

The weekend series marks the end of the regular season — the last one for four Wolverines in the senior season. Amy Knapp, Ashley Lane, Jaclyn Crummey and Stephanie Speierman will all be honored on Sunday at Alumni Field for Senior Day.

“We’re very excited to get out here for our last time,” said Crummey. “It’s kind of mixed emotions, because this is such a great place. But were excited and hoping to come out with some wins.”

Added Hutchins: “I have been so proud of this class (of seniors). They have just been outstanding. … They’ve allowed the young people to flourish; they’ve embraced this team and they’ve been really good leaders. … I would like to see them go far.”