February has never been kind to Lindsay Montemarano.
Last season, the senior third baseman started the year 0-for-16 at the plate, recording her first hit on the last day of the month. 2015 had been only marginally better, as Montemarano recorded a .212 batting average.
March — and the following months — usually brought an uptick in offensive production for the New York native. Montemarano was a vital part of the Michigan softball team’s run to the Women’s College World Series last year, hitting .388 over the final 45 games of the season. In the Super Regional, she launched key home runs in consecutive games to boost the Wolverines to Oklahoma City. 2015 was a similar story, as Montemarano provided a spark out of the seven-hole with a .277 batting average after February.
But this year, the calendar page turned, and Montemarano's bat stayed cold.
She struggled from the plate throughout February and March, hitting just .265 with only one home run midway through the year. Montemarano frequently finished games hitless as she clung to the eighth and ninth spots in the order, a far cry from the usual lift she had provided in previous seasons from the sixth or seventh spot.
And when Michigan coach Carol Hutchins decided to challenge her Wolverines by benching many of her upperclassmen April 22 at Wisconsin, Montemarano saw the third base spot she’d occupied for four years taken over by sophomore Alex Sobczak — a backup catcher.
Hutchins’ move paid off for both Michigan’s previously anemic offense and Montemarano. In the last six contests, she’s leading the Wolverines with an astounding .466 batting average as Michigan has won its last nine games by a combined 84 runs.
“In the beginning of the season, I had to fight through a couple of personal things that were going on,” Montemarano said. “I wasn't able to put in the reps that I really wanted to put in, and I had to change a couple things around. But lately, I've been feeling really good, and I've been able to put in a lot of extra work.”
That extra work has focused around Montemarano’s lower half at the plate — something that allowed her to provide surprising power in years’ past despite being just 5-foot-3.
“I’ve been working on getting some whip in, using my legs a lot more than I had been in the beginning of the season,” Montemarano said. “I was using way too much upper body, and I formed a couple of bad habits. But I (now) feel really loose and really strong in my lower half.”
Added Hutchins: “She’s coming in early, and she’s accepting constructive criticism, and she’s accepting ideas.”
In Tuesday’s game against Western Michigan, Montemarano’s extra work was on full display. In the bottom of the third inning, she took her familiar swing — only her legs were especially behind it this time — and sent a shot over the left-field wall for a two-run homer.
As she trotted from third base to the plate, the sense of relief the blast brought Montemarano was evident. Touching home, she took a deep breath, made a causal dance move with her arms and looked up to her teammates for congratulatory high-fives and helmet-slaps — all while smiling ear-to-ear.
“It was really awesome,” Montemarano said. “I haven’t hit a ton of home runs this year, and the fact that the ball went over shows that hard work does pay off. One of the best feelings is touching home plate when your team is so excited for you, and everyone was so excited for me.”
It lasted longer than just February this year, but through that extra practice, it appears that Montemarano has finally emerged from her slump.