As the ball crossed the middle of the plate and the Louisiana State pitcher, Shelbi Sunseri, swung and missed, right-hander Alex Storako’s changeup closed out the inning without any contact with the ball.
Watching the pitcher throw four consecutive strikeouts last Sunday, with all the confidence of a veteran, you’d never guess Storako is one of the youngest players on the team.
From Storako to outfielder Lexie Blair to infielder Morgan Overaitis, the Michigan softball team’s (6-8) No. 14 per FloSoftball recruiting class features talent all over the field. And not all of the Wolverines’ freshmen have gotten the opportunity to show what they can do yet.
“We have a group of athletes,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins on Feb. 5. “They’re all very athletic. They’re all good softball players. Lexie Blair just walking in the door and is an outfielder and looks like she’s been on that outfield for her whole career. She makes everything look easy. She’s a heck of an athlete. You look at (infielder) Morgan Overaitis and (infielder) Gianna Carosone: two good athletes who have just gotten better and better all year.”
Blair has not only proven herself in the outfield, but also as an asset in the batters’ box, boasting a batting average of .340, the second highest among the team’s starters. Blair’s power behind the plate has been a standout for a team that has struggled to get on base. Last Friday, Blair was responsible for three of six total hits for the Wolverines and has scored seven runs over the course of the season.
“Lexie has stepped up huge,” said junior third baseman Madison Uden on Feb. 5. “She doesn’t look like a freshman to me. She looks great in the outfield and hits the ball well.”
Michigan boasts young defensive standouts as well. One year after left-hander Meghan Beaubien burst onto the scene as a freshman, Storako has emerged as a strong pitcher. Storako made her collegiate debut in the first game of the season. Since then, she has been vital to the rotation, pitching as many innings as Beaubien.
So far, the freshman has outperformed her mentor, giving up fewer runs and allowing fewer runners on base. She currently possesses an ERA of 2.50.
Despite her impressive performance early on, Storako, like everyone on the team, has things to work on. For one, she has yet to pitch a full game, frequently being taken out after giving up several walks.
“Storako’s done a great job,” Hutchins said. “But we need her to sustain during the game and finish the game. You always do it one inning at a time.”
With many of their games being lost by one or two runs, the Wolverines have rarely been in a position to test out the fledgling players, leaving many freshmen with little-to-no time on the field. Among these players is catcher Hannah Carson who has 10 at bats and stepped in for senior catcher Katie Alexander in two games.
“Hannah is an amazing player—she’s obviously been catching for a long time, and I see myself in her too,” Alexander said. “I’ve watched videos of myself hitting while she’s catching and I think, ‘Am I catching? Is that me?’ She pays attention to detail, and I think that she’s going to do really well because she already has the physical stuff. Now it’s about the mental game and getting in there, getting reps and knowing the speed of the college game.”
The transition from high school to collegiate play can pose a problem for some athletes with stark increases in the levels of pitching and the sheer pace of the game.
The upperclassmen have stepped up to ease this transition, preparing the novice players to take the reigns someday.
“They know they’re playing behind a veteran group and we’ve had some conversations,” Hutchins said on Feb. 5. “I just inspired them and you never know when you’re going to get your opportunity. You never know when you’re one pitch from being in the lineup to player forward every day.”
This article has been corrected to reflect Madison Uden's position