In a weekend with little offensive production, the Michigan softball team looked toward its defense to hold games together, and scrape by with wins. For Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, it didn’t do the job.
“Defense is led by the pitching,” Hutchins said. “When the pitchers are on, it makes our defense a lot easier. But I think in general we had opportunities a lot of times for outs that we didn't make. Very passive and very tentative. Very unsure on the field.”
“I think our pitchers have set a really good tone. But our defense and offense need to pick up on it. Trust the pitchers, but have a little trust in themselves. I don't think our defense was as good as it has been, but it’s definitely holding its own.”
The errors only compounded on the struggle the Wolverines faced at the UCLA/LBSU Invitational. Going 2-2 on the weekend, in what should’ve been a more successful weekend, the errors only added to the long list of things Michigan needs to work on.
For senior center fielder Haley Hoogenraad, the defense seemed fine.
“I think, personally, defense can win you games,” Hoogenraad said. “So honestly we are a pretty solid defensive team. There haven’t been a lot of times where we just fall apart in the field. We usually make good throws and good plays. So I think it’s important for us to keep up that consistent defensive play, but I also think we do a really nice job of it.”
The discrepancy between the two, coach and player, is bound to happen. Hutchins admitted she had spent four hours watching film before calling for her phone interview. It’s a different perspective, a different angle.
But in a weekend series that showcased the gaps in the Wolverines’ offense, the discrepancy between player and coach highlighted the importance of strong Michigan defense, something lacking over the weekend.
As Hutchins said, defense starts with pitching. And starting against Boston University and closing against UCLA and Central Flordia, right hander Alex Storako played her typical, consistent game — with the exception of two errors.
The first came on Friday, against Boston University, when, in the top of the first, a ball was hit back to Storako. Bobbling it, she tried to flip it to first base, but missed and allowed the batter on base.
It ended up being a minor error as both of the subsequent batters struck-out, but an error nonetheless.
Storako’s second error proved to be much more damaging for the Wolverines, as it ended Friday’s game against UCF, 3-2, in extra innings. It followed an error from sophomore catcher Hannah Carson when she overthrew second base, allowing a stealing runner to take third.
The next batter up, Storako let go of a wild pitch, which forced Carson out of position to try and block, and provided UCF with a chance to score, which they took.
Storako had just six wild pitches in her 20 games last season. Yet, in the 17 games she’s played this season she’s already racked up 11. But with her increased presence in the lineup comes the responsibility of making plays when it matters.
Carson also contributed another error, against UCLA when she overthrew junior first baseman, Lou Allan, on a dropped third strike. Again, her error didn’t have a major impact on the score of the game — the runner was tagged out in a rundown — but, like Storako, her increased role also demands an increased responsibility.
Freshman shortstop Julia Jimenez added another error on the weekend for a team total of five. Receiving a throw-down from Carson, and trying to tag a stealing runner out, Jimenez let the ball slip past her, allowing the runner to steal third.
All that said, errors are going to take place. It’s more about how Michigan responds to them than what the effect is in the moment they’re made. For the Wolverines’ benefit, their defense needs to remain strong because of their struggling offense. Without a strong defense, they will struggle on both sides of the plate. This could allow for more runs from other teams, something the Michigan pitchers work hard to contain.
Michigan needs to be able to find solace in its ability to rally on the defensive end even when the offense isn’t producing. Keeping a positive mindset, and sticking to the one-pitch focus — both in the batter’s box and on the field — is something the Wolverines are striving to do.
“Our biggest thing is, if you have a bad at-bat, it’s easy to just go internal with yourself and just kind of put yourself down and be distracted with that rather than be present in the moment, especially on the field,” Blair said. “Which, I think our defense has done really well with not letting the negatives in the game carry over. We just want to be present for our pitchers. Present for ourselves, for our team. And there’s always room for improvement and there are always opportunities in the game that we can take advantage of next time if we didn’t do it the first time.”