EAST LANSING — After four innings of back-and-forth play, the score sat deadlocked at 0-0, and the No. 2 Michigan softball team found itself in unfamiliar territory.
Accustomed to scoring early and often, the Wolverines’ bats had fallen cold against the Spartans. Inning after inning passed, and Michigan simply couldn’t put runs on the board.
Watching her team struggle to make solid contact and string hits together, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins needed to rally the troops.
Hutchins regularly huddles up with the team between innings. She opens the conversation in the center of the huddle and then walks out, leaving the players to finish it before they take the field or enter the dugout. Her comments are typically short, sweet and to the point. But before the top of the fifth, she took an extended period of time driving her message home, seeking to light a fire under her team to push them forward.
“Things weren’t going our way offensively and I was mad about it.” Hutchins said. “I did not like our energy at the plate, but I said, ‘Look I’m going to get over it because we still have an opportunity in front of us and we need to focus on that. So I’ll get over it if you’ll get over it because you’ve got to get over the past.’ ”
When the Wolverines broke the huddle, a revitalized Michigan emerged. Junior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano stepped into the batter’s box first and took all of one pitch to lace a single into right field. After junior left fielder Kelly Christner laid down a bunt, sophomore designated player Amanda Vargas sent another single to right. In just three at-bats after the timeout, the bases were loaded with no outs, and the Wolverines were in business.
Junior shortstop Abby Ramirez took advantage of the situation with an infield grounder to second base that rolled just slowly enough to allow Montemarano to race home from third base. Michigan had finally broken the deadlock, and it was just warming up.
The bases were loaded again with two outs, and the Wolverines were in prime position to do major damage with senior second baseman Sierra Romero coming up. Romero smacked a hard-hit ball toward the shortstop, who couldn’t corral it, allowing Christner to score. Moments later, a wild pitch gave Michigan its third and final run.
After four innings of subpar hitting, the Wolverines broke through for the 3-0 win.
“We were playing a little tight, we weren’t being super aggressive and we weren’t putting good cuts on the ball.” Montemarano said. “Hutch reminded us that we’re good hitters and that we need to trust our preparation.
“If we could just trust our process and be aggressive and go up there looking for something in the zone — not looking for a perfect pitch — good things will happen.”
When Michigan needed to get its motor running, Hutchins took her time in the center of the huddle. Her message resonated with the Wolverines, and in a close encounter, that made all the difference.