Timing is vital to extending winning streaks when hungry competition presents itself. Almost as essential as it is to hit the softball.
After scoring 15 runs in two contests against Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan this week, the Michigan softball team looks like it has finally turned a corner offensively — just in time for the start of Big Ten Play.
This weekend, the 19th-ranked Wolverines (19-7-1) will ride their five-game winning streak as they open conference play against Penn State (12-14) at Alumni Field.
Michigan’s offensive production — though down by a run per game since last season — is now rolling behind the bat of junior first baseman Aidan Falk, who notched two hits and two RBI on Wednesday. After being moved to the cleanup spot in an ever-changing order, Falk drove in five runs in a doubleheader against Kent State last Sunday.
“She’s settling into the fact that she’s in the four-hole, which is a big RBI spot,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins.
Falk and the Wolverines, however, will have to contend with the augmented frustration their opponent carries into this weekend, as Michigan has ended the Nittany Lions’ season in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament the last two years.
And that suffering for Penn State is even more far-reaching. It has lost the last 25 games in the series — a streak that extends back to 2007. When the Wolverines struggled to score against ranked teams in preseason tournaments, it looked as if 2017 might finally be the Nittany Lions’ time to dethrone the king of the Big Ten.
The Wolverines, though, are playing like the team they were expected to be at the season’s start. Junior right-hander Tera Blanco is throwing like the pitcher she was supposed to be as a highly touted recruit, surrendering just three combined runs and notching 12 strikeouts in this week’s games. Most importantly, however, the offensive attack has begun to return to its form of previous seasons.
Eight runs, four extra-base hits and homers from Blanco and sophomore right fielder Natalie Peters on Wednesday provided a marked improvement over Saturday’s win against Kent State, in which the Wolverines had to rely on costly errors from the opposition to squeak by what should have been a far inferior opponent.
Hutchins credits the improvement to a combination of some players’ extra work and an improved sense of timing at the plate.
“We’ve been working on our swings and working on our timing,” Hutchins said. “We saw some well-hit balls and hit two home runs in two games — that’s definitely an improvement.
“We’ve had some kids (practicing) extra this week, and their desire that’s what a coach wants to see.”
Those additional repetitions might make Michigan even more nightmarish for Penn State this weekend, as the Wolverines’ confidence is blooming. Michigan will look to continue its win streak and hold the Nittany Lions to an additional loss.