When the Michigan softball team opened its season in Tampa, Fla., Alex Sobczak’s name wasn’t on the starting lineup card.
Instead, the senior utility player lost a competition for the Wolverines’ everyday first baseman role to sophomore infielder Taylor Bump back in February.
Sobczak saw limited action as a pinch hitter throughout the opening weekend, but Michigan coach Carol Hutchins ultimately kept her out of the starting lineup until the team’s fourth game.
For the first two weeks of the season, the first baseman job was a race between two players who didn’t have much experience on the right side of the infield. In Sobczak’s case, her 63 previous starts had primarily come at catcher and third base.
When Hutchins first proposed the idea of shifting her to first base in the preseason, Sobczak embraced the challenge.
“When I first got an opportunity to play at first (base), I just felt like I wanted to give more to the team,” Sobczak said. “At times, I haven’t had that same outlook of being a badass, so to speak, and really owning it.
“It’s really fun to get to play different positions in college. I’ve really enjoyed it, but (first base) is definitely very different. It’s a different role. As a third baseman, I remember having to be super aggressive with everything, but first base is more about being there for your teammates and making sure you pick them up and you’re ready for them.”
It wasn’t until the third week of the season when Sobczak began to establish the upper hand over Bump. During the week of Feb. 22, Sobczak won the job for good with a pair of singles against then-No. 9 Louisiana State and Memphis.
When Sobczak took over permanently, her batting average sat at a lackluster .125. Today, her .385 clip is the 11th-best in the Big Ten. She’s been locked in at the plate during the Wolverines’ current 11-game win streak, racking up 15 hits in 29 at-bats during this stretch — good for a batting average of .517. And that’s no small sample size, considering she has a total of 65 at-bats on the season.
In Michigan’s series sweep of Rutgers last weekend, Sobczak racked up six hits in nine at-bats, including three home runs, nine RBI and five runs scored. On Monday, she was named Big Ten Player of the Week for her efforts. She is the second Wolverine to earn the honor this season, joining freshman left fielder Lexie Blair.
As Michigan enters the heart of its conference schedule, Sobczak’s .708 slugging percentage and .535 on-base percentage are both team-highs. Her 1.243 OPS is the highest the program has seen since Sierra Romero notched a 1.460 OPS en route to National Player of the Year honors in 2016.
To Sobczak, it’s just her way of contributing.
“I definitely don’t have the speed that Lexie (Blair) does, so I have to find a different role,” Sobczak joked. “Being cleanup hitter, it’s awesome being able to score your teammates, and I think that’s one of the best feelings.”
Hutchins knew Sobczak would produce at the plate, but she didn’t expect her defense to emerge as a strong suit. For the Wolverines, Sobczak’s stellar .992 fielding percentage is the cherry on top of the sundae.
“She’s gotten it done for us (on defense),” Hutchins said. “She’s out there because of her bat, but she gets it done. She’s certainly helped her infield out when they haven’t made good throws. … She’s playing hard for her team and she’s having fun.”
After spending most of the opening weekend in the dugout, Sobczak is now a staple in the heart of Michigan’s batting order and one of its most reliable fielders.
At this point, the possibility of a starting lineup card without her name penciled in seems preposterous.