Homer after homer flew out of the ballpark in Bloomington.
The No. 1 Michigan softball team had entered Hoosier territory and made its presence felt. By the end of last weekend, the Wolverines racked up an eye-popping nine home runs — including two grand slams, three two-run blasts and three solo shots.
Overpowering Indiana with the long ball, Michigan (5-1 Big Ten, 27-3 overall) swept the series in grand fashion with a 31-9 combined run margin. But the Wolverines left Bloomington with more than a series sweep and the winningest coach in NCAA history.
After a thorough thrashing of the Hoosiers, Michigan has a new spot in the national rankings: the top. The Wolverines are ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2011.
According to Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, though, that won’t change anything.
“In 2011, we didn’t even make it to the super regionals,” Hutchins said. “So that’s how I feel about it. It’s all about getting to the end. We can only worry about the battles that we’re in, and we’re in a battle this weekend with a very tough Nebraska team. They’re always a tough opponent for us, so I quite frankly don’t give a damn about the ranking.
“Nobody knows who’s ranked in April.”
Going into a tough conference series against Nebraska (5-3, 24-12) this weekend, the Wolverines will look to their leader and standout performer to help them keep the ball rolling against the Cornhuskers. Senior second baseman Sierra Romero set the tone in the series sweep against Indiana, tallying seven runs, six RBI and three home runs, one in each game, in a 7-for-8 performance at the plate.
Stepping up her game with the conference season underway, Romero earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after her dominant performance.
“Since the start of Big Ten, which has only been two weekends now, I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Romero said. “I’ve just been focusing on my fundamentals, just really trying to get my bat out front, getting good pitches to hit and staying ahead of the count. So I’ve just been really focusing on little things. It just so happened that last weekend it all worked.”
As Romero has stepped up her play, her teammates have followed suit. Most notably, junior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano has continued her recent tear in the batter’s box. Blasting a triple and two home runs, including a grand slam, against the Hoosiers, Montemarano validated her recognition as Big Ten Co-Player of the Week last week.
Though Indiana has had a respectable season so far, it isn’t quite at the level of Michigan, as evidenced by the Wolverines’ convincing series sweep. Nebraska, however, will be a much more accurate benchmark for Michigan to determine its progression as a team.
The Cornhuskers dropped out of the top-25 poll with two losses at Illinois last weekend, but with two wins against ranked opponents, they shouldn’t be overlooked by the Wolverines. Infielder MJ Knighten, in particular, will be one to watch out for, as she has hit .407 with 17 home runs to power their lineup.
“We’re in the middle of our season, and we just continue to evolve,” Hutchins said. “We’re going into the heart of the season, and we just need to stay focused on the things that we control, which is playing ball. … The only thing I hope they do (is) play good softball.”