The No. 2 Michigan softball team hasn’t made many changes to its lineup over the course of this season, perhaps for good cause. The Wolverines boast one of the nation’s most powerful offenses, scoring the second most runs per game in the country as of last weekend.
But despite the lineup’s proficiency, Michigan has made two major changes over the past few games.
One of the switches has taken place behind the plate. Sophomore catcher Aidan Falk has started the past eight games as the Wolverines’ backstop after freshman utility player Alex Sobczak spent the early part of the season as Michigan’s primary catcher.
Falk, who is hitting .273 with four home runs and 19 runs batted in, seems to have earned the starting position as the Wolverines enter the final stretch of conference play.
“We’re trying to work with Aidan just to get better every day, and I think she’s enjoying her opportunity,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “When you get the opportunity, make good of it.”
After the Wolverines’ win against Ohio State on April 15, junior right-hander Megan Betsa was complimentary of Falk’s skills behind the plate, pointing to the experience Falk had after training with Betsa during the summer.
“Not that Alex doesn’t do a great job behind the plate,” Betsa said, “but some people just work better with other people, and I think that (Falk and I) click really well.”
Added Falk: “I really try to put the ball into the center of my body when I block it, because that’ll help (Betsa) out a lot. And then I try to block the ball … sometimes it doesn’t go too hot. But I just like to give her as much energy as I can, and do my part behind the plate, because she definitely does her part on the mound.”
The other change has taken place with freshman infielder Faith Canfield.
Before starting as a designated player against Ohio State on April 15, Canfield’s last start occurred in the Wolverines’ loss on March 25 against Northwestern. Between then and the Ohio State series, she played sparingly as a pinch-hitter.
Lately, though, she has started the last four games — including all three games of Michigan’s series against the Buckeyes — and may earn even more regular playing time.
“I’ve seen her really ripping the ball in practice,” Hutchins said. “So we gave her the opportunity. The thought was it’s hard to get in a game every now and then, so we just wanted her to get a few more at-bats. Faith has a lot of talent. She’s a good hitter, and she’s going to be a hitter for us one of these days in the day-to-day lineup.”
Though consistent playing time was hard to find before the Ohio State series, the freshman made an effort to stay prepared while seeking the advice of sophomore infielder Amanda Vargas, who has started at designated player for most of the season.
“I watch what my teammates are doing,” Canfield said. “That’s a huge thing, because I’m just in the dugout, and I have to focus. I feel like it’s harder for me to stay focused just because I’m not on the field, but I’ve tried to stay focused every pitch.
“(Vargas and I) always have conversations back and forth. When she is (the designated player), we’re always having a conversation about what the pitcher is doing and where the ball is going.”
Having a freshman push for a spot in the starting lineup this late in the season is no problem for Hutchins. In fact, it’s something she hopes for.
“I like that there’s competition, because I want someone who is going to be competitive and want to go after it,” Hutchins said. “To me, that is a luxury, that we have people that can compete for it.”