Sophomore catcher Alex Sobczak came to Michigan a local kid. A two-time first-team all-state selection and a .524 hitter in high school, she came in expecting to produce from day one.
And she was given the opportunity right away.
Sobczak played immediately, getting the start behind the plate in last year’s season opener. But she hit just .258 on the year, and despite flashing some power — three home runs and four doubles — she was plagued by inconsistencies at the plate and behind the dish. She started 25 games and played in 29, but by the end of the year had lost out on the catcher battle to then-sophomore Aidan Falk.
Sobczak didn’t get a single at-bat in last year’s 11 postseason games. She didn’t just lose her starting spot — fellow freshman Katie Alexander had also surpassed her on the depth chart before the year’s end.
Entering 2017, though, Sobczak was once again given the chance to win the starting catcher spot. With Falk moving back to her natural position of first base, the job was Sobczak’s for the taking. She started the season opener for the second straight year, with a renewed vigor aimed to keep it once and for all.
But it was deja-vu all over again.
By the end of February, Alexander had seized the job. Sobczak was buried on the bench, and only made occasional late-game appearances at third base.
Sobczak had a choice — she could fold under the circumstances in front of her; from the wave of factors that were against her. Or she could work.
She walked in to the office of Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, and with three forceful words changed the mentality of her season, and perhaps her career.
“I’m not quitting.”
“ ‘Well, that’s the best thing you could say,’ ” Hutchins responded.
Sobczak went to work, regularly attending the optional hitting sessions available throughout the season to the entire team. Despite academic rigors and an already-crowded schedule, she made it a point to get better. And it appears to have paid dividends.
Over the last six games, Sobczak is hitting .571, with six RBIs and two key home runs, including the game-tying shot last Friday evening against Indiana. And don’t look now, but she appears to be taking her job back — having played in each of the last six games and starting four of them.
“Alex (is someone) who’s stayed on course even when things didn’t go her way throughout a good period of the year,” Hutchins said. “I’m really happy that some of her hard work is paying off. Because she’s worked hard.”
For Sobczak, consistency at the plate boils down to patience and timing, something she admits she can struggle with at times.
“Rhythm is the hardest part of hitting in my opinion. Even if you have the same pitcher, they’re going to throw change-up, some of their pitches are a different speed,” Sobczak said. “I think that’s something every hitter struggles with — me, personally, more than most. I’m not a great dancer, rhythm’s not my thing. But just having a game plan, I know the coaches help me a lot with having a different game plan. … Trusting their game plan is helping me lately.”
But this time, her timing couldn’t be better. She may have experienced more adversity in the first two years at Michigan than most players do in their careers. But the Big Ten Tournament begins in one week, and it now seems inevitable Sobczak will have chance to make her mark on the postseason.
No matter what happens, though, she won’t be quitting any time soon.