Carol Hutchins could teach a class on one-pitch softball. And, in fact, she did.
Over the offseason, Hutchins and the Michigan softball team read the book “Heads-Up Baseball” and met weekly to discuss their takeaways. It’s about a mentality — focusing on taking the game one bat at a time to achieve consistency at the plate.
And, if the past two weekends are any indication, the Wolverines took a lot away from those sessions. The team is starting off the season with a 9-0 record, including three wins against ranked opponents: one over No. 7 Florida and two against No. 25 North Carolina. And Michigan hasn’t been squeaking by — six of its nine games have been won by a margin of four or more, including a six-inning run rule over the Gators.
This early road success is a far cry from how the Wolverines started last season. After the first two weekends, Michigan limped home with a 4-5 record, having fallen to teams it trounced a year later due to a lack of offensive consistency. The Wolverines would end a game scoreless in the morning just to come back later that day and pull out 10 runs.
Even within games, they would hit a hot streak — scoring four or five runs in an inning — then lay dormant for the remainder.
But, in 2020, consistency is the name of the game for Michigan.
Not only have the Wolverines managed to keep their bats hot from game to game but also from one inning to the next.
“We are doing a really good job of not going with the roller coaster of ups and downs whether we have good innings offensively, a bad inning offensively,” Hutchins said. “Whether the other team has a good inning, we really just stay on task. We’ve been very good at the one-pitch softball and I think it’s our strength.”
In their second game of the season, the Wolverines got on the board early and kept the momentum going, scoring in each of the second, third and fifth innings en route to a win. The weekend against the Tar Heels, they did it again, scoring in the second inning and slowly increasing their lead over the next three innings with one run each inning.
This comes from being able to rely on production from all parts of the lineup. Last year, the Wolverines’ RBI came mostly from the top of the order, anchored by then-freshman outfielder Lexie Blair, and seniors Natalie Peters and Faith Canfield.
Now, Michigan is firing from all cylinders with big hits coming from the center of the lineup, highlighted by junior infielder Lou Allan, sophomore outfielder Morgan Overaitis and senior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad.
But the Wolverines are far from perfect. During opening weekend, they played two consecutive games in which they edged out their opponent by a single run. The contest against unranked Fresno State went into extra innings scoreless. With matchups against powerhouses like No. 1 Washington and No. 6 Texas on the horizon, one or two runs isn’t going to cut it.
“The most important thing I think our team manages is just kind of staying within ourselves, not making the highs get too high and the lows get too low — just kind of keep it a common ground between the two,” Blair said. “And I think we’ve just done a really good job as a team of working on that and being cognizant of that.”
And it’s still early. The offense Michigan brought to Florida in last year’s opening weekend wasn’t the same offense that showed up to — and won — the Big Ten Tournament in May. Through the rest of their away tournaments and conference play, there’s time for the Wolverines to change — for better or for worse.
Nine games is a small sample size. Michigan’s offense could stall under the wear and tear of constant travel. Or it could keep applying the consistency it learned in the classroom, and that could make all the difference.