In Friday’s win against Penn State, the No. 22 Michigan softball team started slow — failing to score for two full innings and trailing after a fifth. Because of early an early offensive lag, the Wolverines needed a comeback to win the game and maintain the team’s 12-year win streak against the Nittany Lions. The early drought dug Michigan into a hole.
But Saturday, that wasn’t a problem.
In the Wolverines’ first at-bat of the game, senior Faith Canfield knocked it over the wall.
Michigan has oscillated between hot offensive streaks and scoreless innings throughout the season, and Friday and Saturday’s outings were no exception. While the Wolverines struggled to gain momentum on sub-.500 Penn State in Friday’s matchup, Canfield’s blast in Saturday’s set Michigan into immediate motion.
On top of Canfield’s home run, RBI singles gave Michigan a 3-0 lead early, and the runs kept coming.
The difference in the Wolverines’ momentum starting Friday and Saturday’s games showed in each’s respective score, and Michigan coach Carol Hutchins attributed the impact of those early innings on final outcome to relieving pressure.
“We came up swinging and hitting it hard (Saturday),” Hutchins said. “The kids just get confidence when they don’t feel the pressure to score. I thought we swung with a little pressure on ourselves yesterday at times and tried too hard. … Offense is very contagious.”
Hutchins has emphasized that concept all season, and this weekend’s first two contests outlined the importance a first-inning at-bat can have on the course of a game. For players like freshman outfielder Lexie Blair, managing that pressure could play a vital role in the Wolverines maintaining strong first at-bats going into the postseason.
“Today we were just out there playing loose, so I think that was a big factor,” Blair said. “We just want to go out there with each and every inning, and yesterday we were a bit tensed up.”
Playing loose and adjusting mentally is pivotal to starting Michigan off well in a game. Though play can be contagious, playing every pitch as its own and going with a ‘one-pitch-at-a-time’ focus is important in combating that contagious effect in bad innings.
“Mentally, I’ve made the biggest impact on myself,” said freshman right-hander Alex Storako, who threw for nine strikeouts Saturday. “I honestly think the best advice I’ve gotten all year, and in my career, is just the one pitch focus, and I think everyone has really taken that by hand.”
Keeping up that attitude, both in up and down shifts, could be important for the Wolverines looking to the postseason. Even with a win in Friday’s game after a slow start, Michigan’s mental game continues to fuel up and down phases — and the Penn State series won’t be the last for Michigan to continue harnessing those fluctuations.