Junior catcher Hannah Carson stepped to the plate and eyed the Indiana pitcher. Facing a 3-1 count at the top of the third inning, she shifted her weight to her back foot before powering through a home-run swing. The ball arced well past the right field fence as she rounded the bases. She clapped before she even reached first, the ball bouncing off someone’s car.
Carson’s home run marked the third straight inning the No. 23 Michigan softball team had scored in. Usually, the Wolverines score in bunches. Their batters often accumulate hits and walks in the same inning, piling on pitchers after one small mistake.
Sunday’s game against Indiana, however, proved they can score throughout the game.
After struggling to bring runners home to start the season, Michigan found ample opportunities against Indiana throughout its four game sweep. While this potency noted a significant shift, the way the Wolverines distributed their scoring throughout seven innings marked an important evolution in how they produce.
Scoring in consecutive innings might not seem special, but it’s something Michigan struggles to pull off. The Wolverines’ only other instance of this came in an 8-0 run-rule rout over Wisconsin. Out of 61 runs this season, Michigan has scored 40 in multi-run innings.
Consistent scoring takes tinkering, and Sunday was no exception. After Michigan won a close game in extra innings to start Saturday’s doubleheader, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins switched up the batting order. The Wolverines scored 12 times over the next two games, winning each matchup comfortably.
“Everyone that’s on the roster honestly can produce in any given moment,” senior infielder Natalia Rodriguez told reporters Tuesday. “So I think if one person’s not doing it, the next can. … We try to pick each other up, and it’s just great to see everything come together.”
The new lineup put the ball into play, advancing runners and increasing the pressure on Indiana. Almost every spot in the order produced a hit, and those that didn’t found a way to get on base. That stretched each inning and helped Michigan bring runners home. Keeping that up could help the Wolverines turn multi-inning scoring into a more regular occurrence.
Power hitting played a huge role in spreading out the scoring too. Two of the innings saw Michigan batters hit a home run. This should perhaps come as no surprise, as triples and doubles drove the Wolverines to victory in the Wisconsin game — the only other instance in which the Wolverines have sustained a consistent flow of runs.
Many in the Wolverines’ lineup can drive the ball, including senior first baseman Lou Allan, sophomore infielder Julia Jimenez and junior outfielder Lexie Blair. All three hit home runs against Indiana and, when spread through the batting order, they provide a constant threat for both opposing pitchers and fielders to adjust for. If they can go deep more often, more games like Sunday’s could follow.
“If we can never get too high and never get too low and remain in that consistent zone, then we will do well with our process,” Michigan associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “As long as we don’t live and die by every single pitch but keep a consistent approach.”
Relaxed at-bats could be a reason why Michigan scores in bunches. Seeing a batter hit the ball might encourage the next one up to capitalize. The Wolverines stress that “hitting is contagious,” and that likely applies to innings.
Michigan doesn’t have a problem hitting — the Wolverines are second in the Big Ten with a .297 team batting average. Its struggles, though, come from leaving those base runners stranded, often in scoring position. A relaxed, patient approach that comes from remaining in “that consistent zone” could solve that problem.
Sunday’s game marked a shift in the way Michigan scores. For now, the Wolverines bring home runners in bunches when they take advantage of opponents’ defensive mistakes. Six-run innings get the job done now, but scoring throughout the game could prepare Michigan for games when runs prove hard to come buy.
Carson’s home run on Sunday continued an uncommon trend for Michigan, one that it hopes to continue.