Already down 1-0 to No. 7 Arizona in the bottom of the first inning and facing a bases-loaded jam, the pressure was on for the No. 19 Michigan softball team. As the Wildcats’ Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza sent the ball all the way back to the wall, that lead seemed all but certain to drastically increase. But just as it looked like the Wolverines were going to face a five-run deficit, junior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad jumped up to grab the ball, calling an end to the inning and blocking Arizona from potentially gaining a substantial lead.
While Michigan didn’t win, strong defensive plays like that by Hoogenraad were instrumental to the success of the team all weekend, as she made several important catches in each game.
“Haley Hoogenraad plays one heck of an outfield and she makes some great plays,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She does a great job for us. We just ask for everybody to do their part and if you’re in the outfield, if you can touch the ball, catch it. She’s done a great job for us over the years and she’s done nothing but get better and better.”
Added Hoogenraad: “We played pretty well over the weekend. I think we had a lot of really good plays and a lot of really smart plays. Our defense again looks like it’s going to be really strong.”
In the bottom of the fifth inning, another smart play came from Hoogenraad when she dove in the right field to make the catch and secure an out with two on base for Arizona.
“I think I had a couple of good catches that really helped keep us in the game,” Hoogenraad said. “The one later in the game, when there were runners on first and second, kept them from potentially scoring. Those are important.”
An aggressive outfield is nothing new for the Wolverines, a team known for their strong defense. Michigan had the third highest fielding percentage in the NCAA last season behind Oklahoma and Florida. This weekend, the outfield was anchored by veteran juniors Hoogenraad and Thais Gonzalez. The group was rounded out by Lexie Blair, a freshman who proved very useful on both sides of the game. Blair came out of this weekend with a perfect fielding percentage as well as four runs, just one run behind the team leader, senior Faith Canfield.
“Defensively, I think I did pretty well,” Blair said. “I felt really comfortable out there, especially having two upperclassmen lead me and mentor me the whole weekend.”
Despite their solid performance this weekend, the outfielders hope their defensive play will only improve as the season continues.
“Collectively, I would say there were some hiccups in between each game,” Blair said. “With it being the first weekend, I think we did pretty well, especially from practicing indoor and coming here, being on a bigger stage and being outside. We did pretty well, but there are definitely things we can work on.”