In its opening weekend of play, the No. 2 Michigan softball team lost, 8-0, to No. 1 Florida, the first ranked team on its schedule.
Last weekend, the Wolverines played No. 13 Florida State twice, defeating the Seminoles, 6-2 and 10-3, respectively.
Friday, Michigan (8-1) heads to Palm Springs, Calif., where it will face two more ranked teams — No. 9 Washington and No. 12 Oklahoma — in addition to North Carolina State, a team that was ranked No. 23 just last week. The Wolverines will also face Oklahoma State and Long Beach State in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
Michigan has shown it can compete with some of the top teams in the nation, and the upcoming tournament provides another opportunity for the Wolverines to match up against more high-quality competition.
“We played some good teams this past weekend, and we had some close games,” said junior right-handed pitcher Megan Betsa on Wednesday. “That was good for us. Tight games are good. (They) help us learn, help us know what we need to work on.”
Michigan will first compete against the Sooners, who have won seven straight games after losing their first two. Oklahoma is No. 19 in the NCAA in batting average and No. 18 in runs per game.
The Sooners will trot out left-handed pitcher Paige Parker — the ace of their staff — who is averaging 8.8 strikeouts per seven innings.
For Michigan senior second baseman Sierra Romero, the game has some special meaning, as her younger sister, Sydney, starts at third base for Oklahoma.
“I’ve never really gotten to play against my sister,” Romero said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, to see how she’s grown since she’s been training at (Oklahoma). I’m excited to play against her and have a little sibling rivalry going on.”
In its third game, Michigan will take on North Carolina State, who is led by right-handed pitcher Courtney Mirabella. She currently sits at 50 strikeouts on the season, good for ninth-best in the country.
In the fourth game, the Wolverines will try to contain Washington’s bats. The Huskies rank No. 9 in the country in batting average and No. 4 in scoring per game with a solid nine runs.
Yet Michigan coach Carol Hutchins remains undeterred.
“I don’t care about the opponents,” Hutchins said. “We just need to play good softball, catch and throw. We’re trying to work on staying in our process, in our moment, one pitch at a time, and I think we can get better at that.”
Freshman catcher Alex Sobczak has impressed both her teammates and her coaches with her play in the early stages of the season. She ranks second on the team with nine RBI and sits third in total bases with 15.
As a result, she more than earned co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors last week.
“She’s doing a great job back there,” Betsa said. “Every week, she gets better. Every game, she gets better. She’s going to stay with what she’s working on and we’ll be good.”
Hutchins echoed the statements of her star pitcher, explaining that Sobczak requires more time to learn.
“We just need Alex to do her part, catch the ball, produce some numbers offensively,” Hutchins said. “I think she’s going be a great player for us, but it’s a huge learning-curve position, and I think she’s just doing what we need her to do.”
Romero continues to anchor the Wolverines offensively, with a team-leading five home runs, 13 RBI and a whopping 27 total bases. Meanwhile, Betsa has maintained her solid performance from last year, averaging a nation-leading 12.9 strikeouts per seven innings.
For Betsa, however, despite her success in the strikeout column, the numbers do not come easy.
“I’ve been struggling getting behind in the count,” Betsa said. “That’s what I’m definitely going to work on this weekend, spinning the ball through the zone and getting ahead in the count.”