Facing tough competition, Michigan looks to end spring break on high note
In its final day at the Mary Nutter Classic, everything clicked for the Michigan softball team. Following a surprising nail-bitter against No. 1 Florida State, the Wolverines faced Arizona State, capturing a dominant 3-0 victory and their first win against a ranked opponent. In the competition, Michigan notched twice as many hits as the Sun Devils and junior right-hander Tera Blanco had one of her best showings of the season, concluding the weekend on a high note.
Now, Michigan has the unique opportunity to repeat this magic sooner than expected.
The 14th-ranked Wolverines (9-4-1) will again go head to head with No. 20 Arizona State on Thursday, opening up the Judi Garman Classic at the Anderson Family Field in Fullerton, Calif. Closing out spring break, Michigan will face five teams over three days, including No. 7 UCLA, No. 22 Baylor, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, in addition to the Sun Devils.
This first showdown may be a blessing, as the Wolverines recently proved capable of handling Arizona State, and another win over the Sun Devils could boost Michigan’s confidence. But even if the Wolverines can capitalize on this momentum, their final spring break tournament won’t be a walk in the park. As Michigan’s record shows, it needs to stay composed against tougher competition, with only one ranked win currently to its name. The Wolverines will face three ranked opponents this weekend and their toughest slates will be condensed, with back to back games against the Sun Devils and the Bruins on Thursday afternoon, before facing the Bears on Friday.
Despite this, the Wolverines have all the pieces they need to have a successful weekend, and have the ability to take all five games if they come out each day with their best foot forward. Michigan proved last weekend not only that it could hang with the top-ranked Seminoles, but gave Florida State a run for its money, with the game ending in a 5-5 tie.
“That was a really good game because we came together as a team,” sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield said. “We were playing with an edge which ended up working for us.”
The Wolverines left the game with increased confidence that was apparent in their preceding game and in practices this week alike. UCLA, the highest-ranked opponent Michigan will compete with in the tournament, also competed at the Mary Nutter Classic, and suffered a 2-1 loss to the Seminoles. If Michigan can get into a groove with consistency in the circle and offensive production it is capable of, a win over the Bruins is not unforeseeable.
In their last three meetings against UCLA, the Wolverines have taken every game, with their most recent faceoff being spring break of last year. Though the Bruins hold the higher ranking, as has been shown again and again this season, rankings constantly change and are an unreliable measure in predicting the outcome of a game.
“Hutchins’ main thing is it doesn’t matter who we’re playing and what they’re ranked,” Canfield said. “No matter who it is we’re going to go out there and complete. We just have to go out and play softball.”
Facing another strong opponent in Baylor, on Friday, Michigan has the ability to have another competitive but successful day. Though the Bears boast an impressive 14-3 record, they have played few ranked opponents so far, and notably swallowed a 5-0 loss to No. 6 Arizona in their opening weekend. The Wolverines have dominated Baylor in their last three matchups, with the last being a run-rule victory in the 2015 season.
Michigan’s second Friday slate against Cal State Fullerton and its sole game Saturday against Long Beach State look to be less intense than its first three games, and will likely go in favor of the Wolverines. Michigan dominated both teams last year at the Judi Garman Classic, and neither team currently holds a winning record.
Instead of flying back to Alumni Field for practice, the team stayed in California, as the Mary Nutter Classic took place in the Golden State as well. Hosted by Claremont Mudd Scripps, the Wolverines were able to hold practices during the week.
During practice time, the team focused again on timing at the plate, an element they have been working on and struggling with all year. Timing concerns were very apparent in Michigan’s matchup last weekend with Texas A&M, in which the Wolverines never had a baserunner pass second base.
“We’ve been focusing on staying focused,” said senior shortstop Abby Ramirez. “We have been working on being engaged in every pitch not taking any pitches off. I think that will help us in games against any opponent, we want to start and finish every game with the same focus.”
Off the field this week, the players were given some time for fun outings such as shopping, a dancing lesson and watching the baseball team compete.
If the Wolverines find the right combination of hard work and relaxation at the plate that they saw both on and off the field this week, the chance of a perfect weekend is in the cards for Michigan as it wraps up spring break competition.