Michigan looks to home opener for answers to the offensive question

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 - 6:17pm

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Allison Engkvist/Daily

It’s almost like stepping back in time. 

Over the past three weeks, the Michigan softball team has struggled with the same offensive problems that plagued the Wolverines at the beginning of last season: a missing heartbeat — a one-pitch focus, a completely unselfish devotion to the team, a sense of cohesion. 

In 2019, the team came back to Ann Arbor from their weeks on the road with a cumulative batting average of .237. This year, Michigan returns for its home opener hitting just above .222 since the end of its hot streak on Feb. 22. 

Both seasons, the Wolverines dropped several unranked matchups — Louisville, Stanford and South Dakota in 2019 and Iowa State, Liberty and Loyola Marymount in 2020.

But if Michigan continues to follow last year’s trajectory, its saving grace may be just around the corner: the first home game of the season. 

The team’s first weekend at home last year, in a three-game series against Kent State, represented a turning point where it was shocked back to its rhythm. After coming in at 12-10, the Wolverines hit their stride — only dropping one of 28 games in the remainder of the regular season. 

“Hitting is hard, and you have to work through the ups and downs,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “When we came home, we had some time to practice. We had some time to break down video and break down video with them.” 

Maybe it’s about having more time. Maybe it’s about breaking a routine. Maybe it’s the familiar atmosphere of Alumni Field.

Maybe the Wolverines can make that change again and get their pulse back. 

“I never know what’s going to make the turning point with each kid,” Hutchins said. “I do know if we can make a couple of them a little better, the rest of them will get better and feel more confident. We just need to get a couple kids going.”

Regardless of what caused last year’s offensive pickup, Hutchins is just glad to not be staying in a hotel this weekend. 

Constant travel is draining and Michigan always spends the first few weeks playing on the road. In the past month, they’ve flown to Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and California. 

But sophomore outfielder Lexie Blair doesn’t like to think about the things she can’t change. 

“We talk a lot about the outside distractions and the things we can’t control,” Blair said. “We can’t control how much we travel. We can’t control the fans. We can’t control whether we get a hit. 

“We need to separate the traveling, the jet lag, the tiredness you may feel in your body to when you bring it in a game. Because it’s really all a mindset and I think all of us are struggling a bit — thinking too much.”

Blair thinks the team will stop overthinking when it finds a single heartbeat. 

In her mind, last year’s turnaround didn’t happen overnight. While she loves the atmosphere of Alumni, Blair thinks last season’s success started coming when they found their beat. 

“That’s a big thing we have to think about, especially going into conference play — our first home game,” Blair said. “It’s just trying to limit the outside distractions — to focus more on our one heartbeat as a team.”