If you’ve followed the Michigan softball team throughout this past season, you likely know there is no clear cut storyline for the Wolverines.
They started the season slow, streaked and slumped, and finished Big Ten play on fire. And throughout the rollercoaster year, I found myself confused. I had no clue how good Michigan was, because it didn’t consistently put everything together and play like it did at its best.
I think the best way to classify the Wolverines’ season is to look at the way they played in Big Ten series because they almost always played out the same way.
There was always one game where Michigan was firing on all cylinders and blew their opponents out of the water. In another contest their hitting would be just OK and the bats would get bailed out by their pitching staff. And finally, one game featured pitching that wasn’t dominant enough to carry the load of mediocre bats, resulting in a loss.
Within these series, confusing as it may be, you get the clearest picture of who the Wolverines were. They were a team whose most glaring weakness was their constant battle with inconsistency.
And in this past weekend where their season ended after they went 2-2 at the Orlando Regional, all of Michigan’s volatility was captured. There really weren’t any constants, even within this four game sample size. Because what plagued or aided the Wolverines changed game to game.
Michigan’s two wins went a similar way. They were both against the Jackrabbits, and both were highlighted by senior right-hander Alex Storako who zoomed through SDSU’s order over and over again, allowing only one run each game.
But the losses were less predictable. On Saturday, senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien and the rest of the pitching staff did more than their fair share, allowing only three runs through 11 innings. But UCF outlasted the Wolverines and made them pay for costly errors and their inability to get runners on base. Saturday was a loss where the pitching staff did all it could but received no run support.
On Sunday, the pitching collapsed. Of the four pitchers who entered, none could find control, evidenced by the nine walks and a hit by pitch. In just the first inning, three runners scored — All of them walked in.
As the pitching collapsed though, the batters finally seemed to find some rhythm, keeping Michigan in the game by plating four runs. But throughout the game, the Wolverines had opportunities to do more damage that they didn’t capitalize on. They wasted opportunities, leaving nine runners stranded, and couldn’t save themselves.
Michigan wasn’t eliminated because of just one facet of its game. It was eliminated because its highs bordered too close to its lows. The Wolverines proved on Saturday that they could compete with the Knights, they were one strike away from pushing them to the brink of elimination. But they didn’t.
This weekend Michigan showed every aspect of its identity. An eleven inning gem bordered a nine-run walk-heavy disaster. Athletic diving catches saved runs, while ugly bobbles caused them. And both a dormant batting order and an active one made appearances.
But what was shown the most is a team that could compete against the nation’s best, but not one that can do it with any semblance of consistency. And that was the Wolverines problem this year. They had the tools with many returning veterans,, but against better teams they sometimes looked dulled.
Inconsistency is impossible to avoid, but I think that it’s what separates great teams from just good ones. And at the end of the day, I think that’s all that Michigan was.
With all the expectations that surrounded this deep lineup, it was easy to over-analyze both the highs and the lows. But what I think I neglected most of the season was that the Wolverines were more than what they could do in small spurts. They were what they did in every game. And after watching a weekend series where I saw all of Michigan at its best and its worst, I’ve finally come to terms with the significance of its inconsistency.
And what that inconsistency most demonstrated is that the Wolverines were always just good, not great.