- Nicholas Williams/Daily
From Orlando, Fla. to Fullerton, Calif., to Lincoln, Neb., and finally Oklahoma City, the No. 8 Michigan softball team went the distance this season, literally. Like any young team — one that boasted seven freshman and four sophomores on its roster — Michigan has experienced the turbulence associated with a five-month season and a run at a national championship.
More like this
There were the highs — two Super Regional final comeback wins to send the Wolverines to the Women's College World Series — and the lows, like an early exit from the Big Ten tournament.
As it is in the classroom along with the softball field, after the final comes the grade. The Daily softball beat issues its report card for the season.
Most Valuable Player: Sara Driesenga
Sure, freshman shortstop Sierra Romero swung her way to a Big Ten Player of the Year award. But like the old saying goes: They can’t win if they don’t score.
For that reason, this year’s most valuable player is sophomore right-hander Sara Driesenga.
Driesenga’s unorthodox rise to the Wolverines’ ace began with a back injury to sophomore left-hander, and former Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Haylie Wagner. Without production from senior pitcher Stephanie Speirman, Driesegna was forced to pitch nearly every inning through Michigan’s first three trips to Florida in February.
In place of the preseason National Collegiate Player of the Year finalist, Driesenga was a horse from the start. Pitching became the story of non-conference play, as Driesenga bailed out a streaking, young offense to earn the Wolverines 21 victories. And when Wagner returned, Driesenga didn’t relinquish her spot as Michigan’s No. 1 on the pitching staff.
Following three wins against three ranked programs in the Judi Garman Classic, Driesenga earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and NFCA National Player of the Week. She also recorded her first career no-hitter against Hofstra.
When an offense that warranted preceding adjectives like explosive, contagious, potent or unstoppable in the regular season was shut down during the postseason, it was Driesenga in the driver’s seat all the way to Oklahoma.
In 11 postseason contests, the nation’s second-best offense produced just 2.63 runs per game — five runs below its regular-season average. To answer, Driesenga threw four complete-game shutouts in nine NCAA tournament appearances and earned seven victories.
Driesenga finished her sophomore season with a 1.89 ERA and 31 of Michigan’s 51 team victories — a performance worthy of first team All-Big Ten honors and Michigan’s 2013 MVP.
Most Improved: Sierra Lawrence
One of just two freshmen on scholarship at the University, left fielder Sierra Lawrence finished this season as the Wolverines’ most improved player.
A recruit out of Greater Atlanta Christian High School, Lawrence was projected to find her home next to a fellow Sierra, as in freshman shortstop Sierra Romero. As a senior in high school, Lawrence hit .568 with a record-setting 14 home runs and 49 bases stolen — a testament to her speed at 5-foot-8.
After struggling through fall ball, Lawrence was questionable as a starter, let alone a starting infielder. When Romero secured her position at shortstop, Lawrence was forced to adjust to the outfield — in the Wolverines’ only unfilled position in left field. The freshman committed three fielding errors in February and March, but was perfect through the remainder of the season.
Much like her defense, Lawrence found her home in the batting order midway through the season. In just six days as the number-nine hitter, Lawrence used her speed to turn over the lineup and score 26 runs for the offense in six Michigan victories. A mid-season offensive surge pushed Lawrence up in the order behind junior slugger Caitlin Blanchard.
Though it took a few months to brand ‘The Sierra’s,’ both were selected to represent the United States on the 2013 Junior Women’s National team in April.
In the Wolverines’ final game at the Women’s College World Series, Lawrence was the only player to score against Washington — after stealing second base, no less.
Lawrence finished the season hitting .314 with 47 runs scored and a team-leading 11 stolen bases, and was one of six Wolverines named to the All-Big Ten first team.
It’s tough to give Michigan anything less than this grade after the type of numbers it put up.