Softball

Freshman right-hander Chandler Dennis made her first collegiate appearance in Michigan's loss to Iowa State on Saturday.

Chandler Dennis entered the circle. At the plate stood Iowa State’s Hannah Carter, Dennis’s first collegiate opponent. Shortly after, Dennis got Carter swinging — strike three. 

The Michigan softball team dropped three of four games this past weekend at the Gamecock Invitational, dropping to a 10-3 record on the season.

Michigan softball’s perfect record is gone.

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Michigan softball was searching for a solution this past weekend. The problem: an uncharacteristic lack of offensive production. The solution: making changes to the lineup.

Junior infielder Taylor Bump hit a go-ahead home run as a pinch hitter in Michigan's win on Sunday.

Pinch hitting is, to any softball player’s admission, not easy. It’s a role defined by an element of waiting, of suspenseful uneasiness, that no player welcomes. Starters have the luxury of knowing when their spot in the batting order is up and can prepare accordingly. Bench players, meanwhile, can be thrust into the fire any second. There’s a steep learning curve to such a stark role difference.
Bump — now 2-for-2 in pinch-hitting opportunities this season — seems to have found comfort in her role.

Michigan's freshmen stepped up this weekend.

Every year, the seniors on a team graduate and the freshmen move in. And along with the normal first-year worries, freshmen athletes are sometimes expected to fill those senior gaps.
For some, it’s a crushing pressure, and they never get the chance to see the field. For Michigan softball, it hasn’t been a problem — specifically for infielder Julia Jimenez and utility player Lauren Esman.

Junior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez is Michigan's only returning infield starter.

The Wolverines are 9-0, ranked No. 8 in the country and have outscored their opponents by a total of 25 runs. Three of the nine wins have come against ranked opponents. At first glance, the numbers are impressive; signs of a team that is playing elite softball, even against high tier opponents. But it’s not good enough.
Not for coach Carol Hutchins.

Senior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad is hitting .458 on the season.

Michigan softball is starting off the season with a 9-0 record, including three wins against ranked opponents: one over No. 7 Florida and two against No. 25 North Carolina. And Michigan hasn’t been squeaking by — six of its nine games have been won by a margin of four or more, including a six-inning run rule over the Gators due to increased offensive consistency.

This weekend in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, senior infielder Madison Uden started at third for three of the weekend's four games, but the Michigan softball team's lineup is still not set.

The roster is filled with names of players ready to battle it out for one of the nine spots in the lineup. At the beginning of the season, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said she was waiting to see who would take advantage of their opportunities — who would prove they deserved a spot. It’s still early. There’s still plenty of time for players to show what they’re made of. The constant lineup switches can be read to mean she’s still waiting for that moment. Or they could be read as a measure of the team’s depth.

The No. 11 Michigan softball team stayed undefeated this weekend, with wins over Louisville and No. 25 North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Lauren Esman wasted no time. Pinch-hitting in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and the score tied, the freshman utility player belted the first pitch she saw from Louisville’s Taylor Roby over the right-center field fence for a go-ahead grand slam. Esman’s heroics sealed an 8-4 win for No. 11 Michigan softball (9-0) over Louisville (2-7), capping off a weekend sweep which also included a 6-2 win over the Cardinals and 4-3 and 4-0 wins over No. 25 North Carolina (5-5) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Michigan softball team has had to fill gaps left by last year's seniors so far this season.

As the Michigan softball team went 5-0 at the USF-Rawlings Invitational, multiple players had to step up and perform. While competing against five good teams, including then-No. 7 Florida, many players showcased their talents. Now, The Daily breaks down the weekend’s lineup.