The Michigan softball team has relied heavily on the contributions of its outfield both offensively and defensively so far this season. With the team plagued by errors and inconsistent batting against tough opponents, the outfield has been the positive outlier.
The Wolverines’ outfield, composed of sophomore left fielder Ellie Sieler, graduate center fielder Lexie Blair and graduate right fielder Ellie Mataya, looks to continue providing with their contributions in the field and batter’s box for Michigan.
“I feel like the outfield group every single year has the best chemistry and we’re a very close knit group,” Blair said March 9. “… I think our communication and energy is great. They make the game more fun than it already is and I just really enjoy playing with them. Having both Ellie’s on my left and right, it’s just fun to watch them and play with them.”
The added chemistry and comradery the outfield brings — both on and off the field — has paid dividends to the Wolverines’ defensive efficiency. The three players have only committed one error the entire season and have accounted for 59 of Michigan’s fielding outs.
While outs come naturally when playing in the outfield, one edge the Wolverines’ trio has is their athleticism and ability to make big plays.
On Thursday against Kent State, both Mataya and Blair made diving catches to prevent possible doubles for the Golden Flashes. And in the first game of the year, Sieler made an over the wall catch to prevent a home-run that would have solidified a lead for South Florida.
“I’m really happy with our outfield,” Michigan coach Bonnie Tholl said March 9. “Being able to get those balls — (because) miscalculating those balls can turn into a big inning for the opponent. So I was happy with that.”
The ability to make big plays and remain consistent not only allows the defense to flourish, but takes pressure off the pitcher. Sophomore right-hander Lauren Derkowski and junior right-hander Jessica LeBeau both benefit greatly from the outfielders’ play.
“Every player on the field … they always have my back,” Derkowski said March 9. “That’s why I love being a part of this team.”
Not only has the outfield led the Wolverines in consistency on defense, but they have also gained momentum on the offensive end to compliment it. The three outfielders hold three of the four top spots in batting averages among Michigan’s starters. The trio also bats in succession at the beginning of the lineup, another aspect of the game where they are together.
The Wolverines’ veteran, Blair, continues to lead by example. She has consistently batted near the top of the lineup in her five years at Michigan — and this year is no exception. She leads the team with her .322 batting average, providing dependable production.
While Blair continues to set the precedent, younger players — such as Sieler — have learned from the veteran. Sieler has made major improvements from a year ago, where her batting average was .240. This season she is hitting .296, and much of that is accounted for by her new confidence at the plate.
Rounding out the group, Mataya has always been a consistent hitter. Following her transfer from Boston College, Mataya has made an immediate impact for the Wolverines. So far into the season, she has tallied an on base percentage of .355 and a batting average of .238.
While all three players are near the top of the hitting column, there is still room for improvement, as both Blair and Mataya’s career batting averages are higher than this year’s.
“We’re going to continue to speed up the game in practice,” Tholl said March 7. “And we’re getting to that point in the season (they’re) starting to feel more comfortable in the batter’s box.”
The Wolverines will continue to rely on the steady defense of their outfielders. But in order for Michigan to make great strides, the outfield will need to lead and propel the team offensively to complement.