Going into the start of the season, there were relatively few concerns surrounding the Michigan softball team’s infield.
Led by captains Faith Canfield and Madison Uden, who were top-three in batting average and runs batted in on the team last year, the infield unit had high expectations for itself. Sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez, who started 53 of 57 games last season, was ready to have herself a breakout year as well.
The only question was at the first baseman position after Tera Blanco, who led the team in home runs and runs batted in last season, graduated. However, with senior Alex Sobczak and sophomore Taylor Bump competing for the position – who both had starts under their belt – it seemed like the infield would have a seamless transition into this season.
“(Canfield) does a great job communicating, (Rodriguez) has a really great glove,” Uden said on Feb. 5. “I think all of us together, whoever gets the role at first base, I mean both of our contenders at first base are filling in well.
“It’s really nice having (Rodriguez) and (Canfield) there because you kind of already know how they play, what their range is, what you can expect from them, honestly to the nitty-gritty of how they throw the ball to you is huge.”
But this optimism didn’t last for long. After the first nine games, Bump and senior third baseman Mackenzie Nemitz were starting over Sobczak and Uden, respectively, as they both struggled offensively. Simultaneously, Canfield and Rodriguez could not produce any sort of consistency within the box. On the other side of the ball, the infield had eight errors and everything Uden had preached about the unit’s chemistry seemed missing, as questions began to arise around issues that people never foresaw.
“I think we can all communicate a little bit better,” Bump said on Feb. 19 after the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. “I don’t want to say there’s been a lot of hesitation but there’s definitely been instances where we can communicate a little bit better where someone in the infield can call timeout and bring us all together when we’re struggling, when our pitcher’s struggling. I think that’s something we recognized this past weekend a lot.”
What the Wolverines needed more than clear communication, however, was someone who could become a leader and guide this team. And Canfield offered exactly that.
After only two RBIs through the first nine games, Canfield has 14 in the last 21. Her batting average is slowly coming back up to match her .391 clip from last season. But most of all, the infield started to follow her lead.
Rodriguez rattled off six games in a row with at least one hit in the cleanup spot while finding her way around the diamond with the most steals on the team.
Sobczak regained the starting first baseman position as well, boosting her batting average to a .339 clip, while Uden has been batting a .450 since Michigan played its first home game.
And though Uden reclaimed her role as starting third baseman, Nemitz – who has three home runs and a slugging percentage of .533 – has also found a niche as a power-oriented designated hitter.
But most of all, since the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the infield has finally started to live up to Uden’s words with just eight errors in 21 games, and the chemistry that was supposed to be there between the returning members is showing.
“This year started off kind of different than every other year and I don’t have a specific reason why,” Uden said. “You just gotta find what makes you click and what makes you most successful and I think we are finally starting to get to that point.
“We feel strong now and we’re better than ever.”