For Haley Hoogenraad, there was no better feeling in the world than hitting a home run. It just happened to be with loaded bases.
She said after the game, she didn’t know the bases were loaded. She just knew it was a home run when the ball met the bat — and that was the only thing she cared about.
It was the sophomore outfielder’s first career grand slam and the No. 17 Michigan softball team’s first of the season. And at that point in the game, it was just icing on the cake — the Wolverines already had a 10-run lead prior to the grand slam and eventually commanded the game to a 15-0 win over Detroit Mercy in five innings.
But the team was excited for her regardless of the score.
“I think the kids, they celebrate each other’s success,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “And they also know how hard this kid’s worked, and she didn’t always get to bat for herself. We had her in the 10-spot a lot. And no kid likes that, so she just comes in … she works hard.”
Hoogenraad’s grand slam was proof her hard work bore fruit. She wasn’t always given the opportunity to make those types of plays before.
As a freshman, she played in 27 games but only registered 14 at-bats due to her defensive prowess and lack of offensive ability. When she was in the batting lineup, it was always at the bottom. Her average of .214, the second worst on the team, didn’t help either.
That didn’t deter her from wanting to bat — it did the opposite. It gave her a goal to strive toward.
Thanks to her previous struggles, she put in time on her days off, searching for her weaknesses and fixing them. Before practice, she would arrive earlier for extra repetitions. After she batted, she would watch over the video to check her form, her timing and anything wrong with her approach in order to improve.
“She puts in a lot of extra,” Hutchins said. “I can’t tell you how many Mondays that I’ve been in the building, and that’s their day off, and she comes wandering around to look for the video, and she’s got her gym shorts on and her batting gloves, and she’s out in the building. She just works for it. It’s really exciting, and we’re all happy for a kid like that.”
Coming into her own, she increased her offensive load to handle 74 at-bats so far in the season with an average of .311, good for fifth-best on the team. All of that set her up for a career highlight — a grand slam.
“Well, I think just, she’s learned how to hit at this level,” Hutchins said. “In a lot of our big games this year, she’s had some big cuts for us and big RBIs and right now she’s pulling more than her weight.”
In the bottom of the third, freshman first baseman Lou Allan reached on fielder’s choice, allowing her to reach first. With junior utility player Alex Sobczak hitting a single to left field and sophomore outfielder Thais Gonzalez walking in a full count, the bases were set for Hoogenraad.
The Titan pitcher tried to bait her to swing twice, instead throwing two balls. With a foul the next pitch, Hoogenraad prepared herself for a big one. A wide swing from her signaled just that.
As the ball flew into left center field, there was no doubt to anyone where it would land. But to Hoogenraad, it was proof of validation — that her hard work was paying off.
“I was so excited,” Allan said on Hoogenraad’s home run. “I mean, I’ve seen her work so hard in practice over the past couple days and just for her to get that home run, it was a great feeling. Any time a teammate gets a grand slam, I mean, that’s awesome.”