Newfound confidence, focus key for Michigan in FAU Tournament

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 8:58pm

Faith Canfield was named Big Ten Player of the Week for her efforts at the Judi Garman Classic.

Faith Canfield was named Big Ten Player of the Week for her efforts at the Judi Garman Classic. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Eleven.

That’s the number of consecutive trips to the plate that resulted in hits for junior second baseman Faith Canfield. Over the course of 11 at-bats during the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., last weekend, Canfield nearly doubled her season hit total and, in the process, raised her batting average over 100 points. In 11 at-bats, Canfield went on a streak that earned her Big Ten Player of the Week and the Louisville Slugger DI National Player of the Week.

And those 11 at-bats were emblematic of a weekend that could redirect the No. 22 Michigan softball team’s season.

“(Faith) raised all our confidence, you know,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “And not just getting hits, but her presence at the plate, her presence on the field. You know, we need our veterans to give us confidence.”

Prior to last weekend, the only player earning any accolades was freshman left-hander Meghan Beaubien. And often, even her dominance wasn’t enough to carry the sluggish offense. But last weekend, led by Canfield and senior utility players Tera Blanco and Aidan Falk, the Wolverines scored 28 runs — more than they had in the previous two tournaments combined.

“Our game’s a game of failure,” Canfield said. “So when you’re failing, sometimes it’s hard to find that confidence, but … we’re really confident right now and we’re just going for it.”

Now, though, the challenge will be maintaining that upward trajectory.

Two weeks ago, the Wolverines struggled in the Texas Invitational, getting shut out twice by unranked teams. But the tournament’s final game offered a beacon of hope: an 11-run outburst against Wichita State. Michigan felt the tide begin to turn around it.

“That Wichita State game is exactly the team we are,” junior catcher Katie Alexander said after the game. “We can do that every single time we step on the field.”

At the time, the Wolverines’ performance hadn’t done much to engender confidence in that statement. In Fullerton, though, Alexander’s words were validated. And now, Michigan has the chance to characterize a new identity.

But first, it’ll have to perform this weekend.

The softball season is a marathon, not a sprint, and beginning Friday, the Wolverines will be back on the road for the FAU Tournament, where they will face Stony Brook, Florida Atlantic, Ball State, Pittsburgh and Florida A&M — all unranked teams.

Michigan’s slate this weekend isn’t as tough as last weekend, where it faced two ranked teams in then-No. 8 Baylor and then-No. 18 Louisiana Lafayette. But that only makes it more important for the Wolverines to stay loose and focused without playing down to their competition.

“The one thing Hutch keeps saying is front-line focus, so going into each game having one main thing that we’re focusing on,” Canfield said.

Added Hutchins: “It simplifies the battlefield, cause the battlefield when it’s an exciting, tense game and there’s a lot of emotion going on, they start having too many thoughts in their mind, and that’s not ... good softball.”

Stony Brook is below .500 against weak competition. Florida A&M is 4-10. Ball State and Pittsburgh are above .500 — 12-6 and 10-8-1, respectively — but neither have faced any ranked teams. And Florida Atlantic has a few big wins — most notably a 3-2 victory over No. 4 Tennessee — but is just 11-10 overall.

Come away with several wins, and Michigan can enter its final tournament with its confidence as high as ever, on the way to cementing its new identity. But squander its opportunities, and the questions about its ability to perform consistently at the highest level will only get louder.