The leadoff spot in the batting order comes with a large degree of responsibility — depending on the outcome of the at-bat, the first hitter that steps up to the plate can set the tone for an entire game.
And for the No. 2 Michigan softball team, senior center fielder Sierra Lawrence fits the role perfectly.
Taking advantage of her final season as a Wolverine, Lawrence has helped propel Michigan’s offense to the top of the national rankings in a string of statistical categories, including first in on-base percentage and second in both scoring and batting average.
Lawrence’s own statistical achievements factor heavily in raising the Wolverines to that high stature. In 48 games played, her .441 batting average ranks 20th nationally, her .568 on-base percentage ranks ninth and her 1.40 runs scored per game ranks second — just .01 behind the leader.
Though her batting average indicates that she is an adept hitter, the other two categories further illustrate Lawrence’s value to the team.
Lawrence often puts herself in prime position to be driven in by the rest of the order by reaching base at a prolific rate. As part of a Michigan offense that has become known for overpowering opposing teams with run-rule victories, Lawrence frequently serves as a catalyst for the big innings the Wolverines are accustomed to putting together.
“(Lawrence) getting on base is really the key to our offensive success,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “When she’s on base, we score a lot of runs.”
Lawrence’s ability to generate momentum for the offense has shown in the past two series the Wolverines have played. Against Penn State two weekends ago, Lawrence batted 6-for-9, including a 5-for-5 performance in the Saturday doubleheader, while hitting a go-ahead two-run homer that led to a 4-2 victory in the series opener.
For her series-defining efforts, she was subsequently named Big Ten Player of the Week for the second time this season.
Against Rutgers, Lawrence continued to perform at a high level. With two opportune walks to lead off the first and second innings Friday, Lawrence gave Michigan the chance to construct four and five-run innings, respectively, while she hit a leadoff double that sparked a three-run first inning in Saturday’s matchup. To top it all off, she turned in a 3-for-4 performance with two RBI Sunday.
Though Lawrence has been riding an offensive surge as of late, her numbers have steadily increased throughout the season. Even a month ago on April 13, her performances were impressive enough for the Amateur Softball Association of America and USA Softball to name Lawrence — along with senior second baseman Sierra Romero — as a finalist for the 2016 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year for the first time in her career.
While national recognition has been slow to reach her, there is one particular facet of the game in which Lawrence has achieved historic success. With a total of 70 in her career so far, Lawrence is the Michigan record holder for stolen bases. She achieved the feat during the same Indiana series that Hutchins became the winningest coach in NCAA softball history. As someone who has a plethora of experience coaching highly talented players, Hutchins sees stealing bases as an area that sets Lawrence apart.
“(Lawrence is) the best baserunner I’ve ever had,” Hutchins said. “Whether it’s stealing or just being able to take bases and run with great savvy, it’s really her strength.”
Lawrence entered the season with 52 steals, occupying the fifth spot on the program leaderboard, but has set the program record by going 18-for-18 in steal attempts this season. On a Wolverine team not known for its running ability, Lawrence stands out for her ability to make the most of her opportunities..
“If she played on a different team, she would probably steal a lot more,” Hutchins said. “But ahead of Romero, we just don’t want to give them a reason to not pitch to Romero.”
Running as often as she can and reaching base as often as she does, Lawrence is well on her way to leaving a lasting mark on the program.
“(Hutchins) tells us when we come in that our job is to leave the program better than it was when we got here,” Lawrence said. “That really touches home with me, and that’s what I want my legacy to be when I leave.”
With her many contributions to the team this year, her footprints are all over the basepaths.