From the start of the season, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has said she’d like to give the underclassmen more time to play. This weekend, Kent State’s (6-12) poor performance finally gave her that opportunity.
On Sunday, the No. 25 Michigan softball team (15-10) essentially clinched its first game of the day in the first inning — a game the Wolverines won, 18-1 — providing ample time for Hutchins to put some new faces both in the field and at bat.
The moment Michigan went up to bat Sunday afternoon, it was clear the game would be a blowout. Golden Flashes’ right-hander Andrea Scali walked the first two batters she faced — senior second baseman Faith Canfield and fellow senior outfielder Natalie Peters. The Wolverines sent both of these runners home — and eight more after that — before the inning was over.
From there, Michigan’s offense couldn’t be stopped — registering two grand slams and ending the game with a 17-run, run-rule shortened win.
The Wolverines benefitted from Kent State’s miscues throughout the game. Despite not having a single hit, Canfield reached base on all three of her appearances — two walks and one hit by pitch. By the time the game was over, Kent State had given up 10 free bases.
A blowout like this was unprecedented from Michigan this season, since its next highest scoring win was an 11-4 victory against Illinois State. Most of the Wolverines’ other games have been decided by a few runs — averaging about three runs per game — which is why the young, untested players haven’t gotten their shot.
On Sunday, though, Hutchins substituted starters such as sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien and senior catcher Katie Alexander for their less-seen counterparts — sophomore right-hander Sarah Schaefer and freshman catcher Hannah Carson.
“It’s a boost of confidence that (the starters) can go in and get it done so that other people can go in and get it done too,” said junior third baseman Madison Uden. “It’s always nice for them to get out on the field, especially early on in the season.
“Even if they don’t execute, it’s just awesome to see them out there.”
Defensively, Michigan’s substitutes experienced mixed results. Schaefer struggled, giving up the only run of the game and walking two batters in the process. In her home debut, freshman infielder Morgan Overaitis — switched in for sophomore shortstop Natalia Rodriguez — made a tough grab in the final inning of the game, locking in the Wolverines’ victory in the top of the fifth.
In the last couple of innings, Michigan utilized six pinch hitters, including Overaitis, freshman infielder Gianna Carosone and utility player Grace Chelemen, all making their home debut. The pinch hitters did not disappoint on offense, accounting for four of the Wolverines’ 18 runs.
“I was really pleased,” Hutchins said. “It’s unfortunate we haven’t gotten more of an opportunity to put those kids in. When those freshmen come in, I’m very confident they can have good careers for us. I was thrilled to get them in, and I’d like to see more of that.”
As Michigan gears up for the start of conference play, it remains unclear when the Wolverines will again be in a position to put in the non-starters. But, if its offense this weekend was any indication, the wait won’t be long.