Canfield, seniors power Michigan past Penn State

Sunday, April 28, 2019 - 6:38pm

Nineteen of Faith Canfield's family members were in attendance on Sunday.

Nineteen of Faith Canfield's family members were in attendance on Sunday. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Nineteen of Faith Canfield’s family members flew in from California to watch her last regular season series at Alumni Field. Aunts, uncles, cousins — you name it.

The senior second baseman didn’t disappoint.

In 11 plate appearances during the No. 22 Michigan softball team’s weekend sweep of Penn State, Canfield didn’t commit a single out. She racked up six hits in as many at-bats while tallying three RBI and eight runs scored.

The productive weekend comes in the midst of the team’s current eight-game win streak. During that span, Canfield has posted 15 hits in 24 at-bats — good for a batting average of .625. Her .396 clip on the season ranks second on the team behind only freshman left fielder Lexie Blair (.427).

Behind Canfield, the rest of Michigan coach Carol Hutchins’ senior class — center fielder Natalie Peters, first baseman Alex Sobczak, catcher Katie Alexander and designated player Kenzie Nemitz — has put up big numbers all season long. But the statsheet isn’t where their effect is felt most.

“These seniors have made a really big impact on the entire team as role models,” said freshman right-hander Alex Storako. “They’ve led as great examples for us freshmen and they’ve set the bar really high for us. They’ve led us as a strong group as a whole, so it’s been really exciting.”

As a unit, the seniors amassed 15 total hits across 43 at-bats against the Nittany Lions. Their cumulative batting average of .349 guided the Wolverines to a trio of victories in their final regular season weekend in Ann Arbor.

The most special part about this senior class isn’t where they are today. It’s how they got there.

After coming to campus as a slam-dunk recruit, Sobczak bounced around the infield a bit before finding a home at first base this year. Even so, she began the season on the bench behind sophomore infielder Taylor Bump. Now, Sobczak leads the team with a .497 on-base percentage and ranks second in RBI with 36.

Alexander, on the other hand, joined the team as a walk-on in 2016. It wasn’t until midway through her sophomore season that she found her stride and took over as the starting catcher. Today, her team-high 10 home runs makes her the most powerful bat in the lineup.

After watching her older sister earn All-American honors three times as a pitcher for the Wolverines a decade ago, Nemitz spent most of her freshman season in the dugout. As a result of a torn ACL that kept her out for the majority of the last two seasons, she entered 2019 with just six appearances under her belt. But this season, her .291 batting average has held down the fort in the middle of the batting order.

Canfield might’ve had the clearest path to playing time, but even she waited a year as the designated player before assuming her role at second base following the graduation of 2016 National Player of the Year Sierra Romero. In the two years after Romero’s departure, Canfield garnered All-American honors by posting respective batting averages of .398 and .391.

“The seniors are driving the bus,” Hutchins said. “It’s definitely, as a coach, what you want. I don’t want to drive the bus — I can’t drive the bus. I can only make so much happen, and they are making it happen. I’ve just got to stay out of the way at this point.”

With the weekend sweep of Penn State, the Wolverines clinched the program’s second undefeated regular season home record since 2009. That season, Michigan used home field advantage in the regional and super regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament to advance all the way to the Women’s College World Series — a testament to the power of Alumni Field.

This year, the Wolverines find themselves on the cusp of hosting the regional round. Much of whether Ann Arbor is named a host site will be determined by how well Michigan fares in the next two weeks.

But if today was this senior class’ last time taking the diamond at home, it certainly put on a show. When Nemitz pulled into third base during the bottom of the fifth inning on Sunday, she exchanged words with Hutchins.

“Kenzie, look in the grandstands,” she recalls Hutchins telling her. “There is no room between people. They are packed like sardines. Look, enjoy it.”

The next thing Nemitz knew, she was tearing up in the middle of Penn State pitcher Madison Shaffer’s windup.

For Canfield, a similar sentiment resonated.

“I have my family, and then I have my second family,” Canfield said of her 19 relatives in attendance. “This team is special. It’s so fun. (Today) is definitely something I’ll remember.”