Tuesday night, Morgan Overaitis stepped to the plate for her first at-bat in East Lansing. A substitute in the lineup, the freshman infielder replaced senior second baseman Faith Canfield, the team’s leader in runs, in the batting order. Canfield had already hit a single, double and triple in the game, giving Overaitis big shoes to fill.
And the cleats fit to a tee.
Hitting a booming home run in her sole plate appearance against Michigan State, Overaitis added two runs to bring Michigan’s lead to 10, in an eventual 12-1 win.
But Overaitis’ strength off the bench did more than help Michigan finish out the blowout win against the Spartans. It gave a glimpse of the Wolverines’ future.
Michigan has made use of pinch hitters and runners all season, and freshmen substitutes have led the way.
“We’re trying to get the freshmen at-bats because you saw what Morgan did with the ball,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Morgan is really going to be a good hitter. They have to get opportunities in these games to face college pitching.”
Starting the season pinch hitting and stepping in at designated player, Overaitis has embraced that opportunity, tallying 11 hits — the most of any freshman aside from outfielder Lexie Blair, who sits third in the lineup. But Tuesday marked Overaitis’ first home run as a Wolverine — one she sees as just more practice hitting as she always has.
“It feels great to contribute not only for myself, but to help out the team, and that was the best feeling,” Overaitis said. “She threw me a few balls and I was just relaxed waiting for her to make a mistake. … I just took advantage of it.”
In the same way, freshman utility player Grace Chelemen, a frequent pinch runner, contributed Tuesday through quick spurts of offense on base for Michigan. Down 1-0 in the top of the second inning, Chelemen stepped in for senior first baseman Alex Sobczak on base. Though she didn’t round the bases due to an out to end the inning, Chelemen’s speed on base advanced the Wolverines into scoring position on third base.
Even with infrequent appearances, pinch players like Chelemen and Overaitis’ speed and power at the plate show offensive potential, and their contributions don’t go unnoticed on the team.
“Day in and day out you see how much work they put in,” Canfield said. “It’s awesome (to see that play out on the field).”