Faith Canfield spent Friday morning in class jotting down notes instead of taking batting practice before the No. 19 Michigan softball team opened Big Ten play against Penn State.
This lack of game-time preparation didn’t matter for the sophomore second baseman. While her teammates rocketed balls over the fence during warmups, Canfield was one of few who consistently found success when it counted.
The Garden Grove, Calif., native hit a combined 6-for-9 this weekend against the Nittany Lions, racking up six RBI, five runs and five extra-base hits — including three doubles, a triple and her team-leading fifth home run of the season. Canfield’s bat was hot throughout the Penn State series, offsetting the Wolverines’ unpredictable production at the plate.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins believes Canfield has given the underwhelming lineup a much-needed spark when the Wolverines have needed it most.
“Faith has been just working hard and improving,” Hutchins said. “I think she plays with a great energy, which I think helps you play better. … She has great rhythm and is swinging well. So, she is making it look kind of easy. I’d like to think that that inspires the group — that ‘You can do it, if I can do it.’
“She’s certainly been solid for us,” she concluded while grinning.
With the graduation of one of Michigan’s all-time greats, Sierra Romero, Canfield won the starting job at second base. And the decision to insert her in the lineup is paying dividends in both aspects of the game.
Canfield boasts a .359 batting average, and leads the team in home runs with five, 59 total bases and 29 runs. She also ranks among the top three on the team in doubles, RBI, steals and slugging percentage.
Coming into college, Canfield was a go-to utility player and an undeveloped power hitter, looking instead to make contact and get on base. But hard work to get “bigger” during the offseason has led to the sophomore already doubling her home run total from last year.
Canfield also attributes her newfound power to the fine-tuning of her technique in the batter’s box and hitting off her backside. Then there’s the mental aspect to her approach, one Hutchins engrains into all her players. She purely focuses on the outcome of each at-bat by hitting the back of the ball, or at least making contact to put it into play.
“It’s in my confidence, trusting my process and just keeping it simple,” Canfield said. “Honestly, not making it too big. The game doesn’t know who you’re playing or what your batting average is, so you just have to go up to every at-bat looking to hit the ball hard.”
Though Canfield made her name known last year after flashing offensive potential, primarily entering games as the designated player, she has earned a reputation this year as a reliable defensive player. This weekend, her sometimes flashy — but always consistent — glove got her pitchers out of jams, inspiring her teammates in the process. She has posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage this season and leads the team with 45 assists, along with 28 putouts.
Canfield believes her backup role for most of last season taught her to be more appreciative of all the chances she gets to display her natural fielding abilities.
“I love going out there,” Canfield said. “… I think just going out there and enjoying it and realizing that every day we get to play is a great opportunity (is important). I think that whether you’re up or down, being grateful definitely helps me keep a positive energy.”
For her teammates, watching Canfield’s prowess and dedication to the game is motivational, impacting their own play.
“She’s improved so much from last year and I’m so proud of her because of her work ethic and honestly, how hard she goes for this sport,” said junior designated player Amanda Vargas.
Added senior right-hander Megan Betsa: “She comes every day, she works hard and she has great at-bats. I know throwing to her in practice, it’s always a tough battle, so I think she gives us life and she gives us the spark that we need, especially in the two-hole.”
With a dominant weekend showing, Canfield solidified herself as a major force on a shockingly subdued Wolverine offense this season, and is primed to catalyze Michigan in upcoming Big Ten play.
“At batting practice today, we hit about 100 balls over the fence, and apparently we used them all up,” Hutchins said after Friday’s “fortunate” 3-0 win. “We only had six well-hit balls and Faith had three of them. And she wasn’t even at batting practice today.”
But imagine if she was.