Sierra Romero is no stranger to receiving accolades. Since her freshman year, the senior infielder has racked up award after award, and this year is no different.
Romero recently garnered the Big Ten Player of the Week and two prominent national awards from the National Softball Coaches Association and USA Softball.
Romero earned those honors after going on a tear last week, hitting .500 with two home runs and 13 RBI. Adding to her résumé, she is currently in the midst of a 12 game hitting streak — the highest of her collegiate career. But despite her many awards, Romero continues to push herself.
“She’s the most locked in player that I have,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She’s never satisfied. She hits .500 and says, ‘I should’ve hit .600.’ That’s why she’s the best player in the country.”
Romero and the second-ranked Wolverines will look to maintain their highly-powered offense in their final non-conference tournament: The Louisville Softball Classic this upcoming weekend.
While Michigan’s offense continues to thrive, scoring 8.95 runs per game — good for No. 4 in the NCAA — its pitchers need to improve their control before the Big Ten games begin.
Working behind such prolific hitting definitely aids junior right-hander Megan Betsa and her fellow pitchers in times of trouble. Against UCLA last Wednesday, for example, the offense came through after some erratic pitching by Betsa. In just two innings of work, she walked four and struck out only one batter and allowed the Bruins to tie the game.
“A lot of (the walks) are on me, that’s my biggest part,” Betsa said. “(To) get ahead of the hitters, spin the ball to the zone and stay within in myself.”
While she continues to rack up strikeouts, Betsa looks to develop better control in games, something difficult to simulate in a workout atmosphere. In practice this week, Betsa and the other members of the staff participated in drills designed on pitching in the strike zone.
“We have these strings that we set up for our workouts, and they can work for any different pitch,” Betsa said. “But (Wednesday), we just set up the strike zone. My objective was to start the ball in the zone, and it had to break out of the (zone) by the time (pitching coach Jennifer Brundage) caught us to make sure my ball was moving enough.”
It’s important to consider that Betsa just returned from an ailment at the beginning of the year, which could be the source of her early-season control struggles.
“I’m feeling a lot more looser out there and more comfortable,” Betsa said. “As the walks go down, my runs will go down too, I’m not really worried about it.”
At Louisville, Michigan will once again play Illinois State, who it defeated 12-0 in five innings on Feb. 12.
Additionally, the Wolverines will face off against the Cardinals, who are led both on the mound and at bat by freshman Megan Hensley, who leads the team in both home runs and earned run average.
Michigan’s other two opponents include a struggling Dayton team and an Eastern Kentucky team that has a dynamic duo of pitchers in nine game winner Hayley Flynn and Alex Salberg, who has a 1.62 earned run average.
In this final tune-up, the Wolverines will look to hit the ball hard and improve on hitting with runners on the bases, areas they have struggled in.
As Betsa mentioned, Hutchins also believes that Michigan must better its accuracy on the mound.
“I’d like Betsa to throw it through the zone, for (sophomore right-hander) Tera Blanco to hit the black of the plate,” Hutchins said. “Let’s hope guys can get ahead, they can have their way with the hitters, but we’re throwing around with way too many hitters.”
With stellar offensive performances from every spot in the lineup, highlighted by continued greatness from Romero, the Wolverines’ hitting attack will look to maintain its torrid pace.
Michigan’s pitching, however, must put extra emphasis this weekend on throwing strikes and not giving up too many free runs.