On Tuesday, the No. 17 Michigan softball team spent most of practice doing one drill: batting with the bases loaded.
The Wolverines’ struggled against the nation’s elite, putting up a total of one run against then-No. 5 Florida and then-No. 7 Arizona while failing to drive baserunners home for much of the weekend.
“The only question we asked them after the Florida game was, ‘What do you think people say when they watch you play?’ ” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “One of the words that came out of everybody’s mouth was timid. Well, timid is not really a good quality, you know, in a playing surface.”
Added freshman outfielder Lexie Blair, “I feel like our first few games we were a bit tense up at the plate. We were just trying too hard, we’re thinking too much. And then I would say after the Florida game, our coach was just telling us to not think, swing with intent. We’ve been playing for such a long time, we know what we’re doing when we go out into the box.”
By its last two games, the Wolverines’ offense broke out of its cage, lighting up South Florida and Illinois State for 10 and 11 runs, respectively. But this resurgence very well could have been the result of playing unranked competition.
“(Playing against top-ranked teams) is something you can’t let get to your head,” said junior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad. “And I think, personally, it did at times, but I caught myself.”
But if Michigan has any hopes of being one of the best teams in the nation, it will need to replicate those performances against the likes of Florida and Arizona.
Opening weekend also raised some positional questions for Hutchins, who still isn’t sure what to expect and who to rely on offensively.
One of those glaring questions is who will play first base as the season progresses. Sophomore Taylor Bump started the first three games before senior Alex Sobczak got the nod against South Florida and Illinois State, but neither seemed to outperform the other at the plate. Hutchins, though, wants answers now, which means she will continue to experiment until she finds the perfect fit.
“First base is a hitting position, we all know, but you gotta be able to take care of the defense,” Hutchins said. “We gotta find a place for our best hitters. And first of all, I gotta figure out who the best hitters are.”
With the Big Ten/ACC challenge coming up and more top-10 nonconference opponents to follow, the Wolverines will continue to be challenged. And if performances like those against Arizona and Florida occur again – when the lineup struggled to produce offense – it could raise bigger concerns for Michigan.
Chief among those is whether the team has enough power to hang with the best of the best. With senior catcher Katie Alexander hitting the only Wolverine home runs this past weekend, Hutchins hopes to find that power throughout the rest of the lineup. This could possibly mean playing one of the catchers at first base or Hutchins could try freshman infielder Morgan Overaitis, who went 3-for-9 with three RBIs as a designated hitter.
For now, though, she’ll just have to wait and watch.