Season in review: 2019 Michigan softball

Sunday, May 26, 2019 - 8:02pm

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins will lose five seniors in her starting lineup next year.

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins will lose five seniors in her starting lineup next year. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Last Monday, James Madison upset the Michigan softball team on its own field to punch a ticket to the Super Regional. After the handshake line, the Wolverines walked off the field for one final time, heads hanging low. For all an outright Big Ten regular season championship and conference tournament title are worth, Michigan felt as though it fell short.

In February, Michigan dipped below .500 at least six games into a season for the first time in nearly two decades. It posted an 0-4 record against ranked opponents, resulting in a brief exclusion from the national poll — a rarity for coach Carol Hutchins’ storied program. When the Wolverines returned to Ann Arbor for their first home game, they won 33 of their next 34 games. That streak set the stage for Michigan to host the NCAA Regional, where its season came to a screeching halt.

The Daily examines the Wolverines’ top performers, notable moments and underclassmen set to take on an increased role in 2020:

Co-MVPs: Freshman outfielder Lexie Blair and senior second baseman Faith Canfield

This one’s too close to call. Blair and Canfield were the driving forces behind this offense all season long. They each tallied 78 hits, finishing with respective batting averages of .406 and .404. Blair led the team with 54 RBI, while Canfield’s team-high .482 on-base percentage gave Michigan a consistent leadoff spark. Blair and Canfield both finished either first or second on the team in batting average, on-base plus slugging, doubles, total bases and slugging percentage.

Numbers aside, this season gave Canfield a chance to pass the torch to the program’s next offensive cornerstone. As a freshman, Canfield studied 2016 National Player of the Year Sierra Romero during her senior campaign. In 2019, learning from Canfield — a two-time All-American — gave Blair a similar luxury.

Honorable mention: Sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien

Beaubien posted a 30-6 record while notching a 1.87 ERA and 229 strikeouts en route to her second first-team All-Big Ten selection.

Breakout player: Senior first baseman Alex Sobczak

When Michigan began its season, Alex Sobczak’s name wasn’t on the starting lineup card. She lost a competition for the Wolverines’ everyday first baseman role in February, only to see limited action as a pinch hitter throughout the opening weekend.

But when she got her chance, she seized it. Sobczak turned in a breakout senior season, posting a .336 batting average — 78 points higher than her previous career-high of .258 — and 42 RBI en route to second team All-Big Ten honors and an All-Big Ten Defensive Team selection. Her 10 home runs were tied for most on the team and she only trailed Blair in RBIs. Sobczak drew a team-high 27 walks, giving her an on-base percentage of .470 that finished second to Canfield’s. More importantly, she came into her own as a leader and proved to be a key cog in Michigan’s Big Ten success.

Honorable mention: Senior designated player Mackenzie Nemitz

After recording just seven at-bats in her first three years and overcoming a torn ACL, Nemitz batted .288 and drove in 31 runs as a senior.

High point: Michigan defeats Minnesota in Big Ten Tournament championship

Before the Bloomington skies opened up, Michigan — which hadn’t won a Big Ten Tournament title since 2015 — held a 3-0 sixth-inning lead against three-time defending champion Minnesota. Knowing they needed a win to host an NCAA Regional, the Wolverines looked locked in.

Then the downpour began. Following a 22-minute rain delay, the teams took the field for the two most important innings of their postseason resume.

The Golden Gophers stormed back, beginning the bottom of the sixth frame with a leadoff homer before tacking on another run with a sacrifice fly. Entering the seventh, Michigan found itself clinging to a one-run advantage. After walking Minnesota’s ninth batter on a full count, freshman right-hander Alex Storako induced a trio of fly outs to seal the 3-2 victory. With that, the Wolverines clinched their 10th conference tournament title in program history.

Low point: James Madison eliminates Michigan at Ann Arbor regional

Entering the final day of the NCAA Regional, the Wolverines needed only one win to advance. In the other dugout, James Madison needed to force and sweep a doubleheader to survive. On an afternoon brimming with potential, Michigan struggled mightily at the plate. For the second straight day, Dukes’ ace Megan Good — a finalist for the 2019 National Player of the Year award — shut down the Wolverines’ offense. In 26 total innings against Good, Michigan managed just two runs. Good prevented 23 baserunners from scoring, holding Blair and Canfield to a combined 3-for-23 in the process. To the dismay of the Wolverine faithful at Alumni Field, James Madison ultimately punched its ticket to the Super Regional while Michigan became the nation’s only seeded team that failed to advance.

Who’s next in line?

Familiarize yourself with the names Lou Allan, Hannah Carson, Taylor Bump and Morgan Overaitis. This quartet of underclassmen played sparingly in 2019, but showed impressive potential when given the chance. Allan, Carson and Overaitis were each tabbed top-25 prospects in FloSoftball’s recruiting rankings. Bump, meanwhile, has played three different infield positions and showed flashes of elite defense since arriving as 2017’s No. 64 recruit.

Carson figures to slide into the starting backstop role following senior catcher Katie Alexander’s graduation, while Allan and Bump are candidates to replace Sobczak and Nemitz at first base and designated player. Overaitis could assume the starting second baseman duties with Canfield’s career in the books, but may also see playing time on the left side of the infield.