With Sunday’s 12-3 victory over Maryland, the No. 22 Michigan softball team clinched the outright 2019 Big Ten softball title.
Under the tutelage of 35th-year coach Carol Hutchins, the program has now won 21 of the last 28 conference championships, including 11 of the last 12.
Following a closely-contested race between the Wolverines (40-11 overall, 22-1 Big Ten), No. 19 Northwestern (42-9, 21-2) and No. 13 Minnesota (39-11, 20-2), Michigan emerged as the conference’s sole champion after the Golden Gophers took two of three games against the Wildcats over the weekend. Had Northwestern beaten Minnesota on Sunday, it would’ve been the conference’s co-champion.
Entering 2019, there had never been a season in which three Big Ten teams won at least 20 conference games. However, there had been five previous seasons when two teams each racked up 20 conference victories — Michigan and Iowa both did it in 1992 and 1993, Indiana and Iowa accomplished the feat in 1994 and Michigan and Minnesota reached the milestone in 2015 and 2017. But after this year’s historic conference season, Michigan, Northwestern and Minnesota are the first trio to reach the benchmark.
Beginning the season just 12-10, the Wolverines went on a tear through the months of March and April. They won 28 of their last 29 games, tallying nine run-rule victories in the process. Michigan’s only slip-up came on Apr. 13 in Columbus when it found itself on the wrong side of an extra-inning thriller against Ohio State.
Since that loss, Michigan has outscored opponents 91-24 en route to 11 consecutive victories. During this streak, the Wolverines have swept Illinois, Penn State and Maryland while claiming both games in a home-and-home series with Michigan State.
Michigan’s offense has been a balanced attack all year, as five Wolverines boast a batting average of at least .320. Freshman left fielder Lexie Blair’s .431 clip and 49 RBI lead the team, while senior second baseman Faith Canfield’s .406 average is a close second.
Outside of Canfield, fellow seniors Natalie Peters, Alex Sobczak (team-high .494 on-base percentage), Katie Alexander (team-high 10 home runs) and Kenzie Nemitz (29 RBI) have made major contributions at the plate. On the basepaths, Peters, Blair and sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez have stolen a combined 31 bases.
For the Wolverines, the ultimate goal of hosting an NCAA Regional will likely depend on their performance at this upcoming week’s Big Ten Tournament.