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Michigan softball prepares for NFCA Leadoff Classic

By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 22, 2012

For the second consecutive weekend, the Michigan softball team will travel to Florida to play five games. After suffering its first loss of the season against Maryland last Friday, the 12th-ranked Wolverines (8-1) reeled off four consecutive shutout victories, besting LIU Brooklyn, then-No. 22 Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Wright State on the backs of a young pitching corps.

“The pitchers have a part, their job is to contain the opponent’s offense,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins.

The last time Michigan recorded four consecutive shutouts was in 2008.

Competing in their 16th straight NFCA Leadoff Classic, the Wolverines boast an impressive 53-17 record. This year, the tournament will be held in Clearwater, Fla. instead of its usual location in Columbus, Ga.

In addition to shutting out their opponent in four straight games, the Wolverines recorded shutouts in their most recent matchups with each of this weekend’s opponents: Illinois State, Massachusetts, Hofstra, No. 17 Louisiana-Lafayette and Mississippi State.

Pitching has been a key to Michigan’s success this season, with freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner, freshman right-hander Sara Driesenga and junior right-hander Stephanie Speierman — it has kept the team in several games while the offense has been establishing itself.

In their last four wins, the Wolverines have averaged slightly more than three runs per game. A major reason for this has been the lack of extra-base hits.

After hitting six home runs and eight doubles in its first four games, Michigan hit just two extra-base hits in last week’s five-game tournament.

But Hutchins sees this issue as more than just a lack of extra-base hits.

“More than anything, I felt we didn’t have quality at bats,” Hutchins said. “I feel like we got out of our process. If we get back into our process and quit trying to hit and follow the process of hitting, I think things will go a little better for us. We have the ability to hit for power.”

The game that will draw the most attention this weekend will be the Wolverines' matchup with No. 17 Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 7-0 and are the highest-ranked team the Wolverines will have played so far this season.

Though Michigan is in its 35th season and has an all-time record of 1,380-514-4 against 183 different opponents, Louisiana-Lafayette is one of the 19 schools that hold a winning record against the Wolverines.

While the Ragin’ Cajuns’s 5-4 record against Michigan is a noteworthy and remarkable fact, Hutchins has other things on her mind.

“We just want everybody to do their part,” Hutchins said. “If everyone does their part, we have a great chance to win games.”


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