Wolverines face Nittany Lions in tough away series

Thursday, April 28, 2016 - 10:53pm

Junior outfielder Kelly Christner has hit well recently.

Junior outfielder Kelly Christner has hit well recently. Buy this photo
Ruby Wallau/Daily

 

Last season, the No. 2 Michigan softball team dominated Penn State, sweeping the Nittany Lions with three consecutive run-rule victories at Alumni Field.

This upcoming weekend, though, could be different, as the Wolverines travel to University Park to face a much-improved Penn State team.

Sitting third in the conference standings, the Nittany Lions (13-4 Big Ten, 28-18 overall) rank second — just behind Michigan —  in batting average, and even lead the Big Ten in hits. Penn State outfielder Macy Jones anchors the offense with team-highs in batting average, home runs and runs scored. Jones’ .399 average ranks fifth in the conference, and her 49 runs scored is good for fourth.

The Wolverines (15-2, 38-4) are currently in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. They lead the Big Ten in nearly every offensive category and — despite struggles in early conference play — in many pitching categories, too, having allowed just three runs in their past four games.

Junior right-hander Megan Betsa seems to have fixed her early-season control issues while continuing to strike batters out a prolific rate, leading the nation in strikeouts per seven innings with 11.5. Driesenga, though not as overpowering as Betsa, has remained a steady, ground-ball pitcher. The fifth-year senior right-hander found herself in a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam Wednesday against Central Michigan, but ultimately gave up only one run and clinched the victory by striking a batter out and generating two ground outs.  

The Wolverines and Nittany Lions have faced similar conference opponents. While Penn State lost both games it played against Ohio State, Michigan swept the Buckeyes in a three-game series. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines have comparable results against both Indiana and Maryland; Penn State won two out of three against the Hoosiers and swept the Terrapins, while Michigan swept both teams.

For the Wolverines, two key players seem to have emerged from their slumps. Junior shortstop Abby Ramirez missed three games earlier this season with an ankle injury and struggled when she returned. With a strong performance in the past four games, tallying eight hits in ten at-bats, Ramirez seems to have returned to her normal self — a force at the bottom of the lineup. Meanwhile, junior outfielder Kelly Christner returned to her regular No. 3 three spot in the batting order amidst a hot streak; her batting average is now back over the .300 mark.

On the opposing side, Penn State right-hander Marlaina Laubauch will attempt to stop the Wolverines’ offensive attack a week after they put up 33 runs in three games against Maryland. Laubach sits eighth in the conference in earned-run average with a respectable 2.70, but is behind both Betsa and Driesenga, who rank fourth and sixth, respectively.

In the year since the two teams last played each other, Jones and Laubauch have transformed Penn State’s play, helping the Nittany Lions jump from their eighth-place finish in the conference standings last year to their current third-place position.

And this weekend, these Penn State players will be looking to improve on their individual performances against Michigan, as well. 

In her start against the Wolverines last year, Laubauch got through just three innings and allowed six runs, while Jones struck out five times and did not tally a hit.

This year’s addition of right-hander Madison Seifert also gives the Nittany Lions another arm in the rotation who will attempt to quiet the Wolverines’ bats.

Michigan, though, will look to generate the same results as last year as it inches closer and closer to another conference title.