With a runner on first in the top of fifth inning, senior outfielder Kelly Christner shifted the force from her back leg to the front side of her body, reached her arms out over the plate and blasted the ball over the center field wall. North Carolina State pitcher Harli Hubbard could barely turn around in time to see the pitch descend out of sight, but she didn’t need to look to know the ball was gone.
It was Christner’s third home run in Friday night’s 12-0 rout of the Wolfpack, becoming the first Wolverine since 2009 and the fourth all-time to homer three times in the same game. She was honored the Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday for the effort.
“(Christner) was on fire that game,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She really resonated with some of the timing things we had done in practice throughout the week.”
The blast proved to be a microcosm of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for Michigan. The weekend’s four games saw the team tally a total of 10 home runs from six different players.
Sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield was one of those Wolverines. After ending Saturday night’s rematch against NC State with a grand slam, she struck again with a home run Sunday morning to help Michigan avenge an earlier loss to Notre Dame. Canfield, who was moved back to the cleanup spot in the team’s last two games, collected three hits and seven runs batted in during the second half of the weekend.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Canfield said. “But then again, you can’t get too high on the highs or too low on the lows.”
The performance demonstrated a strong early improvement for the sophomore, who hit just three home runs in 44 games last season.
“All my freshman year, (power hitting) was the coach’s main focus for me,” Canfield said. “Coming in, I never really saw myself as a power hitter. I think that just buying into the coach's plan of getting bigger and attacking harder with my swing and just looking to drive the ball has really been a huge focus. It’s really nice seeing all my hard work pay off.”
The weekend’s offensive production also proved to be an improvement for the entire team from the week prior, when the Wolverines averaged just 5.6 runs per game and hit only one home run in five contests.
But hitting homers wasn’t necessarily the focus of last week’s practices.
“Timing has been our focus,” Hutchins said. “Last weekend we barely hit the ball out of the infield, so I was very pleased to see our timing improved tremendously. It is still a work in progress, but we are hitting (for) power a lot better.”
As with any team that finds a burst of success at the beginning of the season, finding production with regularity will be crucial for the Wolverines during two tournaments in California over spring break. Naturally, that’s a focus for Hutchins this week.
“Certainly, we’re going to come together and get more of our kids to be consistent,” Hutchins said. “That’s a goal: to have more of the kids consistent throughout the lineup.”
Getting that power in addition to consistent contact from players throughout the order will make the Michigan’s lineup even more potent moving forward.
So early in the season, if nothing else, the dominance of the long ball is a sign of offensive improvement that will turn heads faster than Hubbard needed to on Christner’s home run Friday.