By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 27, 2012
Time for a pop quiz.
More like this
When was the last time the Michigan softball team lost 17 games or more in a season?
(Go ahead and try asking Siri – she won’t have the answer.)
If you guessed 2001, then you’re correct. Give yourself a point at home.
Next question: how many years in a row have the Wolverines been eliminated in the postseason by an SEC team?
(Google won’t be much help either.)
Congratulations to those individuals who said that 2012 was Michigan’s fourth consecutive year.
Final question: What were the two offensive categories Michigan led the Big Ten in during 2012?
(Don’t waste your time looking on Wikipedia either.)
The answers are: at-bats and runners left on base.
So what does this all mean? Well for this year’s softball squad, it was the first time in over 10 years that they had lost 17 times in a season and were once again outmatched by an SEC opponent. Despite good pitching and solid hitting numbers, Michigan ultimately lost because it left 421 total runners on base this season.
I was prepared for an early exit after last year, yet I too set high expectations for this team. I was not expecting the Wolverines to enter the tournament as underdogs, though.
It was by no means a failed season for Michigan, which won its fifth consecutive Big Ten title and advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals, but it was an up-and-down year to say the least.
The Wolverines, facing scrutiny for playing an easy schedule last year, competed against more ranked opponents ahead of Big Ten play to be ready for postseason play. They took on teams from the SEC and Pac-10, risking early losses for late season victories. Michigan faced 16 qualifiers in the NCAA tournament in their first 26 games before arriving home to play.
I overlooked the losses to unranked teams early on.
And I was rewarded with middle of the season losses to mediocre Big Ten teams like Minnesota and Illinois, and poorly played games against Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan.
The Wolverines would keep games close with their pitching, but when Michigan had opportunities to hit in winning runs, it fell short. Leaving a total of 421 runners on base was a theme this season – and the players knew it.
Against Illinois, Michigan stranded 29 runners on base during a three-game series in which they lost two games.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said they needed confidence to help build momentum and said they needed to relax at the plate, wait for their pitch and put the ball in play. But in the end, she was left scratching her head.
“If I knew how, I would have fixed it by now,” Hutchins said after a May 11 victory over Purdue, during which the Wolverines left 10 runners on base.
But the only thing Hutchins and Michigan didn’t know how to do, was lose.
Having lost just 14 games in the last two seasons, the Wolverines were in an unfamiliar place. Seniors Amanda Chidester and Bree Evans had never lost more than 12 games in a single season. This season they lost 12 before the end of April.
Michigan was unaccustomed to the feeling and didn’t post its longest winning streak until the end of the season.
But this team still succeeded.
“Our goal this season is to be the Big Ten champion and contend for a College World Series,” Hutchins said at the beginning of the season.
The Wolverines won the Big Ten title and advanced to the Super Regional after one of the toughest Regionals this year. They lost to the No. 2 team in the nation on its home field.
Let’s be honest – this team knows it’s talented and knows how to win. Its coach has a proven system of getting her athletes to compete as a team.
No matter what expectations we as media or fans set, it won’t matter this season, or the next one. Michigan had its weekend to reminisce and will move on to the next without any pressure.
I have faith the Wolverines will come back even stronger next year, like they did in 2002, when they came back to make a run to the Women’s College World Series after losing 17 games the year before.
Bonus question: Which team has the reigning Big Ten coach of the year, pitcher of the year, freshman of the year, hasn’t had a losing season in over 25 years and is primed to win its sixth consecutive conference championship?
(You won't need any help to answer this question).