Michigan set to face familiar foes in Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 6:29pm

Junior second baseman Faith Canfield homered against Notre Dame last year.

Junior second baseman Faith Canfield homered against Notre Dame last year. Buy this photo
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Over a 40-plus game season, trends don’t necessarily mean much after one week. Some moments, though, transcend seasons.

Freshman pitcher Meghan Beaubien’s six inning no-hitter, for example, is one of those moments. The way the phenom took complete control in her first career start should make the No. 20 Michigan softball team feel confident.

It’s also hard not to see the Wolverines’ start to this season as a mirror image of last year’s opener at the same USF Wilson Demarini Tournament, for better or worse. In both years, Michigan started out with two convincing wins, but followed those with low-scoring losses to a top-five Florida team and a somewhat inferior South Florida.

At the upcoming Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Michigan will play four games against old foes from last year: two against Notre Dame and two more against a national title contender in No. 6 Florida State. It’s definitely a tall task for the Wolverines to fly across the country for the second consecutive week after their last foray into Florida. In addition, two of the supposed neutral site games will be true road games in reality, since all of the games take place at the Seminoles’ JoAnne Graf Field.

The Wolverines played Notre Dame at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge last year, splitting the series. In each game, the winner scored six or more runs, including a 9-2 Michigan win. Junior second baseman Faith Canfield and senior utility player Aidan Falk each homered against the Fighting Irish, while senior pitcher Tera Blanco pitched a complete game and only allowed five hits.

Like the Wolverines, Notre Dame has a freshmen ace of its own in Alexis Holloway. In her first game for the Fighting Irish, the former 2017 Indiana Gatorade High School Player of the Year pitched a complete game against Seattle University, allowing six hits over seven innings and notching 12 strikeouts. Michigan will also have to deal with sophomore second baseman Katie Marino, who is batting .462 over Notre Dame’s first five games with three home runs and eight runs batted in.

To combat a team like the Fighting Irish one that’s capable of offensive outbursts the Wolverines know they need to take a calm approach to the game. In their two losses, many Michigan players noted the team’s two-out offense was not at its best.

“I think we put a lot of emphasis on not really changing,” Canfield said. “I mean, it doesn’t matter if there’s two outs, one out, whatever, you’ve still gotta have the same approach. Not putting so much pressure on yourself knowing that there’s two outs, and just going up there and having the same approach that you do when there’s less than two outs is important.

As Canfield noted, changing her approach could end up being the right move, especially against Florida State. Last year, the two teams played to a 5-5 tie, despite the Wolverines being a underdog to the then top-ranked Seminoles. What Michigan will have to watch out for, though, is Florida State’s knack to make the most out of every hit: the Seminoles have 28 extra-base hits so far this season, and only two players on the entire roster have yet to record one.

For the Wolverines, an attention to detail and limiting errors will be key to caging in the Seminoles. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, accordingly, is only focused on what her team can do, and not the strengths of the opposition.

“They’re a good team, you know?” Hutchins said. “And we need to play good softball. We’ve played them a number of times over the several, past several years as well. And we know when you play Notre Dame or Florida State, you need to show up and play good softball. That’s all we can control is us. I don’t focus on Florida State.”