There have been moments this season when Megan Betsa absolutely dominated opposing hitters. In one instance, against Western Michigan, the junior right-hander allowed only one hit in six innings. In another, facing Northwestern, she fanned 12 in five innings.
At other points, Betsa remains wild and inconsistent, most notably in her appearances from the bullpen. Coming on in relief at UCLA, Betsa walked four batters in two innings and nearly lost Michigan’s lead. Most notably, in the Wolverines’ disappointing loss in the first game of the Northwestern series, she pitched to four batters, walking three and hitting one to earn her second loss on the season.
An important part of this stark difference in performances stems from Betsa’s lack of confidence, according to Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. Throughout her 32-year career coaching the Wolverines, she has pointed to confidence as the most significant factor to a player’s success. Hutchins instills this in her players by teaching them to focus on their preparation and to believe in their daily workouts.
“A player who plays with confidence is twice the player who’s playing with no confidence,” Hutchins said. “Confidence means you aren’t afraid of failing, you’re confident that what you do can work. You’re not afraid that it won’t work.”
Betsa understands the importance of relaxing and simply focusing on one batter at a time. If she loses composure in a game, her fellow players go to the circle and simply tell her to calm down and offer their support.
“Last year really proved that for me, when I was confident, I threw way better,” Betsa said. “I’m good enough to beat anyone in the country, and when I believe that, I’m really good.”
Michigan’s disastrous loss to Northwestern is a prime example of what occurs when it loses its confidence. The Wolverines, who led by six runs at one point, coughed up their advantage, and despite a sudden awakening late in the game, the rally ultimately proved futile.
“It occurred to us that we might not win, so our lineup stopped scoring,” Hutchins said. “Then in the seventh, they were afraid of losing, and then (the players) played to win.”
Thus, for Michigan to continue its recent string of victories and high-powered offense, it is imperative for the top-ranked Wolverines to maintain high poise both with a lead and a deficit.
Two players stand out as showing high determination. Hutchins believes that fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga exuded tremendous confidence during a tournament in Fullerton, Calif., last month. She pitched 13 shutout innings and garnered two wins in that weekend.
Throughout the season, senior second baseman Sierra Romero has demonstrated this same tenacity on both offense and defense.
“You can watch Romero play, and you really have to look hard to see her lose a minute of her confidence,” Hutchins said. “It’s really a rare occasion. She’s fearless.”
Even when she grounds out or strikes out, she still maintains this high belief in herself, which makes Romero even tougher.
Romero’s fellow players support their coach’s claims of her constant dedication and determination.
“Knowing that Romo ahead of me is going to get on, or (senior right-fielder Kelsey Susalla) behind me, takes the pressure off,” said junior left-fielder Kelly Christner. “(Knowing this) helps (me) relax up there.”
Offensively, Hutchins can determine a player’s mindset from her first swings by seeing if the batter is pondering her decisions at the plate. Because Hutchins knows her players so well, she can sense from the dugout if one of them is having a bad day. She urges her players to simply focus on their strengths rather than dwell on their weaknesses.
Betsa looks to shortstop Abby Ramirez for a boost, as the junior demonstrates consistency and a helpful smile. To have such a person behind her in the infield is essential for a pitcher who, as she has shown this season, can perform to an All-American level but also show shades of inconsistency.
Christner demonstrates that Hutchins’ players truly heed the lessons of their coach. She even adds her own interpretation of confidence:
“I think the main thing is being mentally tough,” Christner said. “I know that I am a great player and I know that I can go up there and hit the ball. If I am not right in my head, then I’m not going to do well. I think just setting aside everything else, going back to the basics, clearing your mind, because it takes the pressures situations and tones them down into a regular at-bat.”
As much as Hutchins would like for every individual on her team to constantly show confidence, her players sometimes let the pressure get to them.
The Wolverines’ job is to limit those moments to the best of their ability.