In the No. 2 Michigan softball team’s opening conference game against Northwestern, the Wolverines lost to an unranked Wildcat team, but a lack of offensive production wasn’t the only thing that drove Michigan to its first Big Ten loss of the season.
Rather, there were a bevy of problems with the pitching staff, whether it be fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga’s inability to get out of innings unscathed or junior right-hander Megan Betsa’s tendency to walk batters. The Wolverines' offense and defense couldn't pick up the slack, and the Wolverines (12-2 Big Ten, 34-4 overall) were tagged for 13 runs and opened conference play in defeat.
Since that debacle on March 25, the pitching duo of Driesenga and Betsa has been able to find a greater level of consistency, with Driesenga still maintaining an undefeated record, 16-0, and Betsa losing to Nebraska only once in a 1-0 game.
Last Tuesday against Michigan State, Driesenga returned to the mound and retired the first 10 betters she faced. While she failed to strike out any batters through five innings of work, just three balls left the infield as Driesenga’s defense backed her up in comfortable fashion.
“Today, I had a lot of confidence in the defense,” Driesenga said. “Getting ahead of the hitters is definitely a big thing, (but) just trusting the defense and letting them play, too.”
As the Wolverines’ rotation has improved with each outing, pitching dominance is sure to be continue on the diamond this weekend when Michigan welcomes Big Ten bottom-feeder Maryland (3-11, 11-32) for three games at Alumni Field.
The Terrapins enter Ann Arbor this weekend on the heels of two consecutive sweeps at the hands of Penn State and Rutgers. Results like the 26-4 run-rule loss to Nebraska in five innings show that the team is plagued with weaknesses all over.
Some bright spots in Maryland’s lineup include Skylynne Ellazar, who is hitting .405 while slugging three home runs, and Lindsey Schmeiser, who leads the team with five home runs/ But glaring shortcomings in the pitching department have sent Maryland’s conference campaign on a downward spiral.
Pitcher Brenna Nation, who is 5-16 and has logged 101 innings on the year in 32 appearances, is most likely to tangle with Betsa in Friday’s opener. Backing up Nation in the rotation is Hannah Dewey, who enters with an 8.58 earned-run average and a 3-9 record.
Though obvious differences in quality and record seem to mark this matchup between the Terrapins and the Wolverines, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins refuses to overlook any team, even a Maryland squad that is toiling away in mediocrity.
“I never care who we are playing,” Hutchins said.