When the No. 25 Michigan softball team takes the field at home for the first time in 2019 this weekend, it will look to put early-season inconsistencies in the rearview mirror.
After securing the Big Ten regular-season title a season ago — the program’s 10th in the last 11 years — the Wolverines enter their first homestand with a record hovering around .500. After spending two weeks outside the NFCA Poll for the first time in 18 years, Michigan will look for contributions from its entire roster at Alumni Field.
The Daily breaks down each of the Wolverines’ position groups as they aim to capitalize on a Kent State team that enters Ann Arbor mired in an eight-game losing streak.
This year’s pitching staff is headlined by sophomore Meghan Beaubien, who posted a 33-6 record, 1.16 ERA and 266 strikeouts across 217 innings pitched en route to first team All-American honors in 2018. The southpaw’s success in the circle has been highlighted by the four no-hitters to her name, one of which came less than three weeks ago against California State Northridge. After suffering a broken wrist in the weight room last fall, Beaubien’s ERA has ballooned to 2.44. She’s been dominant as a starter, but Beaubien has allowed upwards of four runs in multiple relief appearances in 2019.
Another arm that’s been impressive is freshman right-hander Alex Storako, who has firmly established herself as the team’s second starter. Storako is often referred to as a “spin pitcher” by Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, which has been evident in her 76 strikeouts across 65.1 innings pitched. Opponents are managing a batting average of just .167 against Storako, but her 2.14 ERA has taken a hit thanks in part to the 10 home runs she has surrendered.
Though her numbers aren’t as dominant as Beaubien and Storako’s, sophomore right-hander Sarah Schaefer provides value to the staff by inducing soft contact. Schaefer has recorded a 2.69 ERA across nine appearances thus far, a sizeable inflation from her 1.57 clip in 2018.
After taking over as the starting catcher midway through her sophomore year, senior captain Katie Alexander has established herself as one of the best backstops in the conference. She slugged her way to a .314 batting average with 24 RBI while picking up second team All-Big Ten honors a season ago, but has struggled at the plate in the early stages of her senior campaign. Alexander enters the homestand with a .152 batting average in 17 starts, but leads the team with three home runs and ranks second with 11 RBI.
Freshman Hannah Carson — FloSoftball’s No. 21 2018 prospect — has assumed the backup catcher duties so far this season, despite junior catcher Abby Skvarce’s upper-hand in age. Carson tallied a .571 batting average and 31 home runs as a senior in high school en route to her fourth consecutive first team All-State selection.
This season’s starting first baseman job has presented the biggest head-scratcher so far, following the graduation of Tera Blanco, a first team All-Big Ten selection in 2018. It’s been a battle between senior Alex Sobczak and sophomore Taylor Bump since opening weekend, but neither player has much experience on the right side of the infield.
As of now, the position appears to belong to Sobczak, who entered the season with 63 career starts under her belt. On the other hand, Bump’s natural positions are third base and shortstop, meaning she is accustomed to playing defense on the other side of the infield. Neither player has put up big numbers at the plate so far this season, but Sobczak’s team-high .429 on-base percentage trumps Bump’s .250 mark.
Sophomore Lou Allan arrived in Ann Arbor as a highly-touted recruit last year, but has spent this season battling injuries. Allan is currently out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury, but will be a viable option at first base if she returns this season.
Michigan’s lineup starts and ends with senior second baseman Faith Canfield — both literally and figuratively. The two-time All-American has firmly established herself as the leadoff hitter, and she comes into this weekend scorching hot after posting a .448 batting average during the team’s West Coast trip last week. Canfield spent her freshman season learning the ropes of her position from then-senior Sierra Romero, who took home 2016 National Player of the Year honors. Now that Canfield is in her second year as captain, Hutchins wants to see her “take this team by the horns.”
For the second straight season, sophomore Natalia Rodriguez will be the Wolverines’ everyday shortstop. Rodriguez registered a .250 batting average in 53 starts as a freshman, so her .333 mark thus far represents a massive leap forward. After recording 10 stolen bases on 12 attempts last season, Rodriguez has already swiped five bags on as many tries in 2019. Despite being one of just three players to start each game this season, Rodriguez often bats ninth in the lineup.
Last season, Madison Uden was Michigan’s breakout star. After finishing her freshman year with a .255 batting average in 12 starts, 2018 brought about monumental success to the tune of a .357 average and 35 RBI. While the numbers prove that Uden stepped up as a hitter a season ago, her biggest development came from a leadership standpoint — something evident in her teammates’ choice to nominate her as a 2019 captain, despite being just a junior.
One of this year’s early-season shocks has been Uden’s struggles at the plate. She limps into this weekend with a .174 batting average — a 183-point regression from 2018. As a result, senior infielder Kenzie Nemitz has made 13 appearances despite playing in just six games over the last three seasons.
The Wolverines’ outfield corps has been their most consistent position group over the first month of the season. Freshman left fielder Lexie Blair has been a staple towards the top of the order, posting a .316 batting average with a team-high eight doubles. Now in her third year as the starting center fielder, senior Natalie Peters is another staple of the lineup. She earned second team All-Big Ten honors in 2017 after posting a .361 batting average, but saw that number dip to .312 last season. When it comes to defense, junior right fielder Haley Hoogenraad is one of Michigan’s finest. Hoogenraad recorded 43 putouts without committing an error a season ago.
This trio has stayed intact in 21 of the Wolverines’ first 22 games, but junior Thais Gonzalez and freshman Grace Chemelen — who often appears as a pinch runner — are legitimate options off the bench.