At the halfway point of its conference schedule, the No. 18 Michigan softball team will battle Maryland in a trio of games this weekend in College Park, Md.
With the Big Ten Tournament looming in one month, the Wolverines (9-1 Big Ten, 29-8-1 overall) currently hold the top spot in the conference.
Before Wednesday, Michigan was tied up with its primary competitor, No. 6 Minnesota, with eight Big Ten wins apiece. But after routing in-state rival Michigan State in a midweek gem, the Wolverines surpassed the Golden Gophers for sole position.
Senior right-hander Megan Betsa returned to her commanding form against the Spartans. Though she struggled in the circle during the Ohio State series finale last weekend, she didn’t let this faze her Wednesday. Betsa matched her career high strikeout count with 17 Ks, retiring eight of the last nine Michigan State batters. Provided she continues to perform at that level, the ace will be a force to be reckoned with this weekend.
Offensively, junior right fielder Aidan Falk has recently been a presence at the plate. Falk leads the Wolverines in doubles with 14 and touts a .347 batting clip — the fifth-best for the squad. On Wednesday, Falk went 2-for-3, supplying the majority of Michigan’s runs batted in with three.
“I’ve been trying to see the ball and swing more freely, getting it off the brain,” Falk said.
While the Wolverines sit atop the Big Ten — notching 15 wins over their last 16 games — the Terrapins (1-8, 8-28-1) have found themselves at the bottom of it. Though Maryland won its most recent slate against Northwestern, that victory followed an eight-game losing streak.
In the circle, the Terrapins’ pitching rotation holds a 5.28 ERA, the second-lowest in the conference. Both of their primary starting pitchers toss above the 3.00 mark, a far cry from Besta and junior right-hander Tera Blanco, who both possess sub-2.10 ERAs.
The Terrapins’ offensive leader, freshman infielder Anna Kufta, boasts a team-high batting average of .318. Though six Wolverines average above this clip, Kufta is fresh off a weekend in which she batted .545, going 4-for-4 in the opening game of Northwestern series.
Maryland saw arguably its biggest accomplishment of the season back in February, shocking the softball community by triumphing over No. 3 Florida, 4-2. The victory marked the Terrapins’ first win over a ranked team in five seasons.
Historically, Michigan has the upper hand against Maryland. The Wolverines have taken the past seven series against the Terrapins, including all six once Maryland officially was an official member of the Big Ten.
The one disadvantage Michigan has going into the weekend is not a statistic, but rather the turnaround time. The Wolverines traveled to College Park on Thursday after playing Wednesday, likely leaving no time for practices before they will face the Terrapins. But this is something Michigan will have to get used to in upcoming weeks.
“We’re not going to practice,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “But we don’t need to practice. I mean, we know how to play. My biggest concern is the fatigue factor in this three-week stretch, being on the road … I got to keep them fresh, but we won’t practice much.”