It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what plagued the Michigan softball team’s offense at last weekend’s Gamecock Invitational.
Despite coming in undefeated, the Wolverines limped home with a 1-3 record on the tournament, scoring more than one run just once in four games.
It’s hard to know exactly why, but Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has some ideas.
Their swings lacked connection. They lost focus on the one-pitch mindset. They got anxious when they were behind the count. The technical flaws Hutchins saw last weekend go on, but she pointed to one overarching answer: They got cocky.
“Without being able to articulate it, I often say that winning can make you soft,” Hutchins said. “And they had won a bunch in a row, and I don’t think they expected it to be difficult. Which is the only expectation I think you should ever have.”
The Wolverines’ offense didn’t produce and they left South Carolina with a total of seven runs over four games.
Michigan will have to make mental and physical adjustments going into this weekend’s Judi Garman Classic in Los Angeles. The Wolverines will face their highest-ranked competitors of the non-conference slate: No. 2 Washington, No. 3 Texas and No. 25 Texas Tech.
Michigan has pulled out wins against ranked teams before. On Mar. 1 last year, the Wolverines took down UCLA — No. 2 in the country at the time — in the Bruins’ first and only loss until Apr. 12. Two days later, they edged out No. 5 Washington, 4-2. Earlier this month, they blew out No. 7 Florida in a sixth-inning run rule.
But, with the notable exception of this year’s game against the Gators, most of those ranked match-ups were won on the backs of pitchers. The combination of sophomore right-hander Alex Storako and junior left-hander Meghan Beaubien have frequently kept the Wolverines in the game while the offense struggled.
As Hutchins has said time and again, it’s the pitcher’s job to pick up the slack when the batters aren’t producing. But the reverse is also true.
When Michigan’s pitching staff struggled last weekend, the offense wasn’t there to lift them up.
This weekend, it seems unlikely Beaubien and Storako will be able to keep powerhouse teams like Washington scoreless, no matter how on-point their games are.
Out of 16 games thus far, the Huskies have been held below five runs just three times. While the Longhorns lack that level of consistency, they’ve won 11 out of their 18 games with runs in the double digits. So far this season, the Wolverines haven’t been able to reach that level offensively, averaging just above four runs a game.
A huge portion of the disparity comes from power hitting. Texas has 13 home runs so far. Texas Tech, 12. The Huskies, 18.
Michigan has just six.
In Hutchins’ eye, it’s not that the team lacks power. It’s a problem of pitch selection.
“When you swing at crap you usually hit it crappy,” Hutchins said. “(Last weekend) they swung and we didn’t swing at very many good pitches. And we took a lot of pitches, we took a lot of strikes.”
Over the past month, there have been small glimpses of the power the Wolverines are capable of. Facing Florida on Feb. 8, Michigan fired off two homers and four doubles, totaling six RBI, en route to a 11-2 win.
While Michigan is ranked No. 13 and boasts a 10-3 record, to compete at the next level, the Wolverines are gong to need more. Specifically, they’re going to need to channel the power they found against the Gators and the confidence at the plate they found in a 10-game win streak.
It’s not a question of whether Michigan has the offense to compete against these ranked opponents.
It’s a question of whether it can turn it on.