When the No. 25 Michigan softball team gets runners on base, it often seems like a cloud hangs over the dish, cooling off the batter’s box. The Wolverines have gotten runners in scoring position, but so far this season they have struggled to convert those opportunities into runs.
In its last series against Wisconsin, though, Michigan seemed to correct that. Previous games of lackluster offense gave way to an 8-0 explosion in the first game, although the production fell off to end the series. In this weekend’s games against Indiana, the Wolverines will have an opportunity to continue that turnaround.
Indiana struggles on defense, especially when under pressure. The Hoosiers boast a conference-worst 21 errors, with many coming with opposing runners on base. Wild pitches and passed balls also increase when teams put them in those situations.
Michigan has hitters that can put Indiana through the same paces. Junior leadoff batter Lexie Blair is a constant threat for teams to consider, getting hits in every game this season. Seniors like Lou Allan and Taylor Bump also possess a significant amount of pop.
In order to find offense, though, it will take more than two or three batters. Consistency throughout the lineup led the bats to success against Wisconsin, and Michigan likely needs to repeat that to maximize its effectiveness.
Sophomore utility Lauren Esman could flesh out the batting order. After a burst of solid at-bats in the last Big Ten bubble, she showed she can hit — and for power, too.
“I definitely think with more at-bats, I have been able to get more comfortable in the box,” Esman said. “ … It definitely translates to maybe like my physical aspect, getting my hands relaxed when I’m hitting, mapping, rushing the plate, those things.”
But Esman’s confidence at the plate isn’t limited to hitting. She also knows how to get on base by working the count to draw walks. Clogging the bases can make the difference when runners threaten to score, adding to the heat opposing pitchers might feel.
Indiana could be a prime chance to test that. Part of the Hoosiers’ defensive problem is their tendency to walk batters in high-pressure scenarios. This could be seen against Northwestern when two walked batters turned into runs for the Wildcats.
Michigan worked on count management after the first bubble weekend, and it seemed to reap benefits. Against Nebraska, Michigan earned seven walks and often led in the count. Building on that success heading into Bloomington could open up opportunities for batters to drive in runs. After 12 days of practice and rest, though, the Wolverines want to keep their aggressive momentum.
“We are really in an attack mindset right now,” sophomore outfielder Lexi Voss said. “The team is a cohesive unit. We’re playing really well together. I think our biggest thing right now is just our energy’s outstanding as a team … .”
That energy, coupled with productive plate appearances, could help continue the success Michigan found against Wisconsin. Michigan enters its next series with more experience capitalizing on prime scoring opportunities. Developing these skills even further might help warm up an offense that’s been struggling this season.
The clouds that hovered over Michigan’s bats seemed to part in the series against Wisconsin. Capitalizing on Indiana’s flaws could prove if they will stay away long-term.