Michigan is perfect — in record, at least.
The Wolverines are 9-0, ranked No. 8 in the country and have outscored their opponents by a total of 25 runs. Three of the nine wins have come against ranked opponents. At first glance, the numbers are impressive; signs of a team playing elite softball, even against high tier opponents. But it’s not good enough.
Not for coach Carol Hutchins.
The team needs to improve. And it has plenty to improve upon, according to its coach.
“I didn’t think we were very sharp,” Hutchins said. “We missed at least four or five opportunities that were all but routine pop flys. And bunts. We made a couple errors there.”
The miscues were mainly attributed to lack of communication and lack of experience. Michigan has a new catcher, a new second baseman, a new first baseman and a new third baseman. On top of that, juniors Lou Allan and Taylor Bump are splitting time at first and third base. The only returning starting infielder is junior shortstop Natalia Rodriguez.
The remedy to the inexperience: live situations.
Hutchins noted that live drills have been an integral part of practice this week to address the errors in the field. They forced the players into communicating and making plays together, gearing them up for the upcoming weekend.
While fighting through the growing pains, the infield has looked to Rodriguez, its pillar of consistency.
“I’m going to have a lot of voice in the infield,” Rodriguez said. “Taking charge on plays and stuff like that. Some of my teammates say I’m like a common presence, so I try to maintain that on the field.”
As a member of Hutchins’s designated leadership team, this is expected of Rodriguez. Notching nine putouts and 11 assists in Michigan’s first nine games with a 1.000 fielding percentage, she leads through her play as well as her voice. Knowing this, Rodriguez takes it upon herself to help her teammates improve.
“I look to push my teammates,” Rodriguez said. “It’s good for a competitive drive. I want the people next to me to excel in their game.”
While Rodriguez helped to answer the team’s fielding problems, Hutchins was also working on the other side of the ball.
“I think offensively we keep trying to get better,” Hutchins said. “I don’t think we’re hitting as well as we need to hit. We let a lot of pitches get away from us.”
The struggle has led to run droughts and close games for Michigan. Four of its nine wins were only by one run. One of those was a 1-0 win against Fresno State in the ninth inning, a game that could easily have been lost without dominant performances from junior left-hander Meghan Beaubien and sophomore right-hander Alex Storako.
Hutchins believes the Wolverines need to improve every pitch. She’s preached her one pitch mentality to her team the entire season. She’s materialized the mentality in practice, having the batters take single pitch at bats. A ball or a hit? You win. Anything else? You’re out.
The Wolverines are staring down the pipe at matchups against five top 25 teams in the next two weeks, including the No.1 and No. 2 teams — UCLA and Washington, respectively. As Hutchins sees it, Michigan will have to be better.
The path to this improvement is known throughout the team.
“You’ll hear Hutch say it over and over again,” Bump said. “One pitch softball, one pitch softball, one pitch softball.”