The Michigan softball team gathers in a circle on the field.
After a coveted Big Ten sweep eluded it once again on Friday, the Michigan softball team needs to self-motivate to change that fate. Selena Sun/Daily.  Buy this photo.

After dropping Friday’s series-opener against Minnesota, the Wolverines now stand with one chance left to go undefeated for at least one weekend in Big Ten play.

That feat has been a common occurrence in past years. In last year’s COVID-implicated Big Ten schedule, Michigan swept five weekend series. In the last normal year (2019), it earned six sweeps against Big Ten opponents.

But the way the Wolverines have failed in securing a single sweep most recently suggests a flaw in their ability to take initiative in getting a win.

Two weekends ago, the Wolverines traveled out to College Park and came up short in the first game. Unlike the other two matchups with Maryland that weekend, in which Michigan came up victorious — it left 10 runners stranded and fell to a 5-1 loss. 

Last weekend, in many ways, could’ve been described as triumphant. The Wolverines fought to win the majority of their games in a homestand against Ohio State. Highlights included a walk-off triple from fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump, a Buckeye-silencing outing from senior right-hander Alex Storako and some game-saving heroics from senior outfielder Lexie Blair in her return from a leg injury. The first game, however, still eluded them. This time, pitching and fielding were the main causes of a 6-2 loss. 

In Friday’s game, the Golden Gophers came out swinging in the third inning. They capitalized on two straight singles with a three-run homer from Minnesota outfielder Natalie DenHartog. 

Even though fifth-year left-hander Meghan Beaubien went on to pitch the whole game without giving up another run, Michigan’s batting woes were debilitating toward mustering any response to DenHertog’s blast. Through all four innings that remained, it tallied a mere two hits.

“Sometimes your passion is smothered,” Hutchins said after the Nebraska series. “Whether you’re fearful, whether you’re afraid of disappointing people, whether you’re afraid of not living up to your expectations.

“… We have high standards, but expectations are something out there. It’s in your head, it’s pressure you put on yourself.”

Given the Wolverines’ performances these past two weekends, it’s fair to expect they will ultimately show they are the more skilled team on the field. It’s even reasonable to expect that they will win the next two games and the overall series.

It takes the disappointment of a weekend-opening loss to push them there though, and that can become costly.

“They were all fired up in the locker room, but then you got to be in a competitive mindset,” Hutchins said after the Ohio State loss. “And it’s the only time it matters.”

Going forward, Michigan will have to find the version of itself that responded to a loss with two wins at Maryland. It will have to find the version of itself that responded to a loss with two wins against Ohio State.

The Wolverines can once again take advantage of that dynamic this weekend against the Gophers. With these games being the last ones in front of a home crowd this season, they have even more reasons to be motivated.

But with Big Ten and NCAA tournament play just around the corner — tightening the room for error — Michigan can’t wait to respond. It has to take initiative to find that spirit from the jump.

“You have to act like a champion before you become a champion,” Hutchins said after a win over Bowling Green last month. “You can’t wait to have energy … you have to have energy and that will dictate if you have success.”

If the Wolverines can harness that energy — no waiting required — they will have that success.