Chandler Dennis entered the circle. At the plate stood Iowa State’s Hannah Carter, Dennis’s first collegiate opponent. Shortly after, Dennis got Carter swinging — strike three.
That was it for Dennis’s first time on the rubber. One batter. She came in for the final out to relieve sophomore right-hander Alex Storako on Saturday in an inning where Iowa State had put up four runs on the Wolverines. Prior to Dennis’s entrance, the Cyclones were winning, 5-1.
The stakes were low. Any damage a freshman pitcher like Dennis may have caused was already done before she stepped up to pitch. For Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, this was the moment she needed to give the right-hander Dennis a chance.
“Well, we’ve been watching her in practice since she got here,” Hutchins said. “And at some point, when we’re behind in the game, it was a good opportunity to get her in.”
In her small opportunity, Dennis showed enough to be given another chance. Later that Saturday, Michigan played No. 22 South Carolina, and Dennis was given a bit more responsibility.
It was another relief situation where the Wolverines were down, but instead of only facing the final batter, Dennis was handed the ball with over an inning left to play.
She finished the 1 ⅓ innings of the game allowing just one hit. Again, Michigan lost, but Dennis had proven her ability against a true opponent.
Hutchins had seen enough this time to raise the stakes once more. Sunday morning, Dennis was given her first start.
“Getting my first start of course got a little bit of the nervous juices flowing,” Dennis said. “But I love competing with my team, and there was no doubt in my mind that they had my back on defense.”
Dennis went through 4 ⅓ innings pitched, allowing six hits and one run with only one strikeout. After Dennis put two on in the fifth, Storako came in to relieve and gave up a three-run home run, tacking two more earned runs onto Dennis’s total.
Her first start wasn’t perfect, but Dennis knows that.
“I think I just need to work,” Dennis said. “I think I could have done better at getting ahead in the count. I think I pitched to contact a lot this week.”
On all those issues, Hutchins and Dennis are in lock-step. Where they aren’t, is in whether the problems were as isolated as Dennis seems to think.
“I think today’s performance they got a lot of bat on the ball,” Hutchins said. “We need to see (Dennis) paint the corners.
“But to be fair, every one of our pitchers has got to paint the corners much better. All of our pitchers are putting too much ball over too much plate. And as you see, we’ve given up too many big hits and we need to dig in here.”
Despite their superior experience, starting pitchers Storako and junior left-hander Meghan Beaubien threw similar games to Dennis over the course of the invitational.
This lackluster pitching no doubt contributed to its 1-3 record on the weekend. And while it is not the result Hutchins would have liked to see, it opened the door for a third pitcher in the Wolverines’ rotation to show her worth.
“I think (Dennis) is really capable of some great things,” Hutchins said Jan. 28. “And I think she needs to see herself as great. She needs to have some determination everyday and every pitch — like all of them. They’re always a work in progress.”
This weekend, Dennis made her debut as a Wolverine. It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress. And that’s just what she needed.