By the bottom of the second inning, the No. 23 Michigan softball team had fallen into a pattern: get walked to first on a full count, round the bases to home, repeat.
Then, freshman catcher Hannah Carson stepped up to the plate.
Before Wednesday’s game against Toledo, Carson had 35 at-bats, registering eight hits, though only two were translated into runs. Close games early in the season didn’t allow freshmen like Carson to see much playing time, but recent offensive surges have allowed her more time on the field. In these games, the non-starters have shown their worth.
Carson, who’s had more defensive opportunities than most freshmen on the team, has proven to be an asset to the Wolverines behind the plate, not committing a single error in her 22 appearances this season.
“Hannah’s been behind the plate,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She’s a fine catcher. She does a great job receiving, she’s got a gun for an arm and just learning to keep up with the intensity of this game — she’s done that when she’s had her opportunity. We can put her in at any time; we have confidence in her that way.”
But on Wednesday, it was her time to prove herself offensively against the Rockets.
The Wolverines were up 15-0 by the time Carson picked up the bat. With the bases loaded and two outs, Michigan was looking to extend an already long inning. After a strike, a foul, and two balls, it looked like Carson’s at-bat would result in another walk, but that wasn’t in the cards.
On the next pitch, Carson swung hard, sending a line drive over the right-field wall — the first home run of her collegiate career. The grand slam increased Michigan’s lead to 19.
Because the ball was so low, Carson didn’t even know whether it went out of the field.
The impressive feat by the freshman demonstrated just how impactful this class can be when given the chance.
Every player except for sophomore Meghan Beaubien made an appearance before the game ended in the fifth inning. The non-starters didn’t disappoint, accounting for seven of the Wolverines’ 24 runs. Carson’s grand slam was followed by a home run from freshman infielder Gianna Carosone.
While Hutchins said she loved the home runs, these weren’t the highlights of the game in her eyes.
“I was most excited that (the underclassmen) were able to get in and get some meaningful time — more than one at-bat and get on the defensive side of the ball,” Hutchins said. “They’re our future.”
Carson almost repeated this performance in the next inning when she fired a ball towards center field. Just shy of high enough, the ball ricocheted against the back wall where a Rockets outfielder failed to make the catch, resulting in a double. Carson’s hit brought two runners home, bringing her RBI total to six for the game.
“I thought it was (going out) for a minute there,” Carson said. “But it was really exciting anyway.”
In between these at-bats, Carson was substituted in for catcher Katie Alexander behind the plate, a role she will likely continue to occupy after the senior graduates.
“She’s got all the skill sets that we need,” Hutchins said. “I think she’s got the ability to be a really great player here. She’s learning how to hit at this level, which is really learning how to manage the strike zone.
“The sky’s the limit for Hannah.”