Michigan searching for answers at first base

Tuesday, February 19, 2019 - 8:19pm

Taylor Bump is one of multiple candidates at the first base position for the Michigan softball team.

Taylor Bump is one of multiple candidates at the first base position for the Michigan softball team. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Well then who's on first?
Yes.
I mean the fellow's name.
Who.
The first baseman.
Who.

The question may have originated from the famous 1936 Abbott & Costello skit, but it holds true 83 years later as the Michigan softball team asks: Who’s on first?

Since first baseman Tera Blanco’s graduation last May, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has been searching for a replacement to round out the infield.

While Hutchins has stressed that there are many players being considered for first base, sophomore Taylor Bump and senior Alex Sobczak seem to be among the top contenders, each having started at least one of the nine games so far this season.

Throughout her career at Michigan, Sobczak has served a variety of roles in both the infield and the outfield, providing the Wolverines with strong defense from all over of the field. The Wolverines have gotten off to a rocky start, dropping five of their first nine games, and are currently unranked for the first time in 18 years.

“I’ve seen some good things from (Bump and Sobczak), but we’re going to need to see more,” Hutchins said last Tuesday. “When a player asks me ‘What can I do?’ Stand out. We’re looking for people who are going to stand out. The stand-out nine are going to be the ones who are the most regular.”

In looking for someone to fill the role, Hutchins has chosen to go back to the basics. She emphasizes the importance of fundamentals in seeking a starter, but also a player who will show assertiveness.

“We need someone on first base to help be vocal,” Hutchins said. “It’s a vocal position. And catch the balls that are thrown. That’s the job.”

Added Canfield: “Taylor and Alex have both been competing for first (base). I think they both have their strengths and weaknesses but I don’t think any of them are so dramatic that it’s that noticeable. They’re both working hard and doing what they can for the team.”

And with both players failing to “stand out” thus far, Hutchins isn’t limiting her search to those two.

“I’m looking for hitters, always,” Hutchins said. “We need people who can hit through the lineup. (Bump) has done a nice job there but we’re looking at who makes the bag.”

Bump, who has started seven of the nine games this season on first base, spent her freshman season primarily stationed at third base, creating an additional challenge to her in her new role on the other side of the diamond.

“It’s always a challenge learning a new position,” Bump said. “I knew I wanted to be in the lineup and I wanted to contribute the best I could this year.

“One thing about switching from the left side to the right side is learning your range. On the left side, you go for everything you could possibly get to and at first base, you obviously can’t because you have to be able to retreat to the bag.”

Though the defense has done well so far this season with an average of .88 errors per game, the lineup is far from finalized. Going into the third weekend of the season, there is no timetable for when a consistent lineup will appear. But with struggles starting to mount, the sooner the lineup comes together, the better.

“We move people in and out,” Hutchins said. “We’ve had different (designated players) and that’s part of what goes into a 56-game season. We don’t have a totally set lineup. It would be nice to have one and I’d hope we’d have one by the time we get to Big Ten play. Some years it doesn’t work that way.”

These fluctuations don’t seem to bother the players who know this as par for the course. It may be frustrating but that’s what the Wolverines must do to return to a .500 record.

“I think people are just getting comfortable,” Bump said. “That’s what our game is. Our game is adjusting and adjusting to adversity.”