This weekend, the No. 16 Michigan softball team had two chances to assert itself and prove its fortitude. The first was against No. 1 UCLA (22-1). The second pitted the team against No. 22 UCF (18-5). In both matchups, the Wolverines fell short.
The losses came at 2-0 and 3-2, respectively — each the result of Michigan’s (15-8) continued problem generating runs when it counts.
“I would say our offense right now is not doing its part — at all,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
On paper, the Wolverines actually out-hit UCLA and UCF by a combined total of eight hits to six. And counting its other two games at the UCLA/LBSU Invitational, with a 5-1 win over Cal State Fullerton (14-9) and a 2-1 win over Boston University (12-6), Michigan had 11 more hits than its opponents on the weekend.
So finding a single hit wasn’t the Wolverines’ problem. It was stringing them together.
“But I’d just say we’re not getting the timely hits that we need to,” sophomore left fielder Lexie Blair said. “I’d say most of our losses from this weekend, especially against UCLA and UCF, it was just timely hitting for both opponents that we just couldn’t come up with. We couldn’t come up with stringing any hits together and getting any runs across.”
This was evident over the course of the invitational. Out of Michigan’s 23 hits on the weekend, 13 of them came as the only hit in the inning.
With runners on base, the Wolverines didn’t fare much better. They stranded 24 runners over the course of four games, with a high of nine against Cal State Fullerton.
Blair didn’t attribute the struggles to Michigan’s physical capabilities, nor did she credit them to the prowess of the Wolverines’ opponents. To her, it was the team’s mental outlook in scoring situations that held it back.
“It’s easy to get way ahead of yourself and try to focus on the outcome,” Blair said. “Which, for our team, being outcome oriented doesn't always grant you success.”
Senior center fielder Haley Hoogenraad echoed Blair’s sentiment by preaching Michigan’s mantra of “one pitch focus.”
“I think we just have to focus on the same thing we were trying to focus on the entire time,” Hoogenraad said. “You can only control what you can control. We struggled with that a little bit so I think that we need to do a better job of focusing on one pitch that we can control at a time.”
Despite poor offensive performance, the Wolverines took two of four games on the weekend and remained close against some of the top teams in the country. They held UCLA, a squad that averages 7.74 runs per game, to just two runs. And UCF was held to one run until the bottom of the eighth inning.
In each of Michigan’s wins, it held its opponent to just three hits and one run. In those victories, the Wolverines’ opponents reached base just 12 times in total.
The reason: pitching.
“Defense is led by the pitching,” Hutchins said. “When the pitchers are on, it makes our defense a lot easier. … I think our pitchers have set a really good tone, but our defense and offense need to pick up on it.”
Michigan stands less than a week away from its opening weekend in Ann Arbor. To find success, it will need to hold on to its pitching prowess and overhaul its offensive performance.
But the Wolverines won’t spend their time worrying about it. In fact, Hutchins wants them to do the exact opposite.
“We have to just go up there and swing,” Hutchins said. “Not worry about anything. Not worry whether it’s the right pitch. Not worry whether we miss.
“That will help our swing get back to where we’re capable of.”