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Only six games into the 2021 season, the No. 23 Michigan softball team (6-2 Big Ten) lost its final two games in its opening weekend. 

Regardless, the Wolverines are looking to this weekend’s slate of games against Nebraska (3-5) and Wisconsin (4-4) as a chance to showcase that early pitfalls won’t define their season.

“Well, you know, we definitely came back (from the opening weekend) with a lot of information,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We certainly had some great pitching performances from our pitchers, and we learned as a team we need to get better at managing our play, and really controlling the strike zone.”  

The great pitching performances Hutchins mentioned were stellar to the point in that, opening weekend, the Wolverines’ two aces — senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien and junior right-hander Alex Storako — pitched all but one third of an inning. 

Whether or not pitching is an area Michigan is looking to improve in depends on how you look at it. On one hand, Beaubien and Storako pitched lights out in the opening weekend, pitching 78 strikeouts between the two of them. But on the other, the Wolverines certainly want more production out of their other bullpen members, especially since they will be playing three straight against the Cornhuskers and then the Badgers.

“Seeing a team three times is harder than seeing them twice,” Hutchins said. “We’re just going to learn how to get those hitters out from the opposing teams as they’re going to spend equal time trying to figure out how to beat our pitchers as they get to see them over and over. So that’s why it’s crucial and critical that we start getting some work from some of the other pitchers.

“That would be my hope for the weekend, that we can have a little more action than just from Alex and Meghan.” 

Besides the desire to get more players reps on the mound, there’s another dimension Michigan is looking to improve in: hitting. In their first six games, offense has proven to be a weak spot for the Wolverines, particularly with runners on base. Outside of a strong performance from junior outfielder Lexie Blair, the team as a whole never found any consistency at the plate. 

Michigan is looking to remedy this through practice. It had ample time to work on hitting with more practices after an opening weekend than they have ever had before, and, through an extra emphasis on Hutchins long-time philosophy: one pitch softball.

“I think we learned to just take each pitch at a time, ” junior catcher Hannah Carson said, referring to the opening weekend. “You can’t make any moment bigger than another moment. You got to go into every pitch with the same energy and intention.”

With the upcoming competition this weekend, an improvement in hitting is certainly plausible. In Wisconsin’s first six games, its pitchers produced just 25 strikeouts. And Nebraska, in its first six, produced 36 strikeouts. In comparison, Illinois — the team the Wolverines most struggled to score against and lost to twice — struck out 43 batters over its first weekend of play. So, while the gap isn’t huge, it’s clear to see that the Badgers’ and Cornhuskers’ pitching is a slight notch below what Michigan dealt with in the Fighting Illini.

The Wolverines will have a lot to work on this weekend when they travel to Florida once again to play another six games, and there’s going to be no lack of opportunities presented to them. Only time will tell whether or not the many practices or renewed emphasis on tried and true philosophies will reap the benefits they seek. For the time being though, Hutchins is hopeful.

“We spent every part of every practice working on managing the strike zone at the plate,” Hutchins said. “That’s my hope that we come back and we’re better. We’re better at that and being on time. ”


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