Two weeks ago, after the No. 2 Michigan softball team’s series against Nebraska, Kelly Christner met with coach Carol Hutchins to discuss her recent hitting struggles. The junior outfielder knew she needed to change her approach at the plate and end a recent slump at the plate.
“I’m so hard on myself,” Christner said. “Whenever I’m down on myself and I’m in a slump, I just try harder, and I think (Hutchins and I) both realized that that obviously wasn’t working.”
During the three games against the Cornhuskers, Christner tallied only one hit in nine at-bats and struck out four times. Christner, who last season earned first-team All-American honors and hit .393, was under the .300 mark after the series.
The day after talking to Hutchins, Christner came to practice early to work on hitting.
In the five games that followed, Christner moved to the No. 6 spot in the order to regain her hitting stroke. Facing rival Ohio State, Christner helped the Wolverines (12-2 Big Ten, 34-4 overall) sweep the Buckeyes and take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
“Obviously I’m good enough to be out there playing,” Christner said. “The main thing for me was to try less hard (and to) think less.”
She hit her fifth home run of the year and scored five times throughout the series, and Christner continued her offensive surge in Michigan’s 8-0 run-rule victory Tuesday against Michigan State (4-10, 22-22) at Alumni Field.
With two outs in the first and the Wolverines looking for some early offense, Christner beat out a ground ball to the shortstop for an infield single. Senior right fielder Kelsey Susalla took two balls before crushing a pitch to right-center field for Michigan’s first two runs and a lead it would maintain throughout the game.
Against the Spartans, Hutchins tinkered with her batting order, moving Christner back to her usual No. 3 spot and slotting Susalla as the cleanup hitter. The players responded accordingly, with Christner notching three hits, two runs and three RBI and Susalla hitting her ninth home run and driving in four.
“That’s (Christner’s) spot,” Hutchins said. “I moved her down to help her get going. I thought she was getting better, and I thought our team would be more comfortable (in their original spots in the lineup). Those two in particular, Kelly and Kelsey, would be more comfortable back in their position.”
The performance in Tuesday’s game marked a reappearance of the hitting skills Christner displayed last season en route to All-American honors and 21 home runs. Her play over the past few games has bumped her average to .321, and she will look to continue to tally more extra-base hits and maintain her relaxed mindset.
Though it happened some time ago, the discussion with Hutchins had tremendous impact, and it set Christner up for continued offensive success as the Big Ten season continues.
Her new method of staying loose and relaxing during at-bats certainly helped her against the Spartans.
“She looked clear-minded,” Hutchins said. “When you get too much stuff in your head, it blurs your vision. She seemed really clear-minded today.”