Though Louisville and North Carolina didn’t seem to be the caliber of the Michigan softball team’s opening weekend opponents, the 17th-ranked Wolverines knew they’d present a challenge. And, after a lackluster first tournament, it originally seemed like Michigan came ready to play in Chapel Hill, beating Louisville 6-0 in its first game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“We were really on task, we were sharp, we were crisp, and we had a great energy about us,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “When we got there, we were excited to get to play. I was very pleased, and I thought we had improved from week one to week two.”
But what seemed like a promising weekend of improvement turned sour quickly.
After the shutout win over Louisville on Friday, Michigan (4-5) mustered a measly six runs over the course of its next three games, losing the North Carolina (5-3), 8-3 and 4-2, respectively, while dropping a close one to Louisville (4-5), 2-1.
“We need to start generating more offense in general, period,” Hutchins said. “We need more bases, we need better cuts. If we’re guilty of anything, there’s no question, it’s that we’re trying too hard. We’ve got some kids that have power, but we just want to hit the ball hard. We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there. It’s tough.”
Added senior catcher Katie Alexander: “Usually, hitting is contagious so, you know, I just got to keep trying to do what I can do for my team in any way possible to get on base. And again, mental toughness. Like softball is a game of ups and downs. Hitting 1-for-3 is good so we just have to string it together.”
The turning point of the weekend occurred during the fifth inning of game two. Tied at three, against the Tar Heels, sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien relieved freshman right-hander Alex Storako. The wheels couldn’t have fallen off any faster for the Wolverines. After giving up five earned runs, Beaubien was pulled within the same inning.
“We didn’t stay as competitive,” Hutchins said. “I don’t want to say (we lost) our confidence, but all of a sudden, we got tentative. You can’t. You’re in the middle of a game. When you’re getting outplayed, you can’t play tentatively. We can’t play tentatively, we can’t pitch tentatively, we can’t hit tentatively and we can’t play defense tentatively.”
That inning set the tone for the rest of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for the Wolverines. After practicing how to hit with runners on base this past week, Michigan was unable to drive in runs and leaving several runners on base each game.
The Wolverines will undoubtedly drop in the rankings after losing three of four to unranked competition. But more than that, the weekend raised more questions than solved them.
With the starting first base job spot still up for grabs and junior third baseman Madison Uden getting benched toward the end of the weekend, the lineup is far from set according to Hutchins. But rather than building confidence for the next two tournaments that feature four of the top eight teams in the nation, Michigan has lost itself.
“We can’t really do anything about it now so we should be able to let it go and not be thinking about it next weekend,” Beaubien said. “We just need to focus on the games we have that are coming up and just really focus on all around, offensively, defensively, and in the circle. And not putting pressure on ourselves to get the results we want and just play softball like we know how.”