Veterans anchor the No. 2 Michigan softball team’s lineup from top to bottom. Eight of the nine players who regularly start for Carol Hutchins’ Michigan team also had prominent roles for last year’s Women’s College World Series squad.
This week, those veterans will lead the Wolverines into their first homestand and into the beginnings of the first part of their Big Ten schedule.
The Daily looks at how Michigan stacks up position by position.
Fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga and junior right-hander Megan Betsa have stepped up to fill the void of two-time All-American Haylie Wagner, who graduated last season. Betsa, while erratic at times — she has walked 38 batters — has thrown a whopping 87 strikeouts in 55 innings, good for 11.1 strikeouts per seven innings, the third highest in the nation.
After losing last season to injury, Driesenga leads the Wolverines in innings pitched this year and also has compiled a 10-0 record. Sophomore Tera Blanco gives the Wolverines a much-needed third starter and after a rough first start against Florida, she recovered to throw two complete games and now boasts a 2.33 ERA. Hutchins also may choose to utilize freshman right-hander Leah Crockett as both a starter and reliever as well. Her only appearance came in one inning against Virginia Tech.
Michigan starts freshman Alex Sobczak behind the plate, and she has performed well at bat thus far, hitting two home runs and driving in 13 runs, while striking out just four times, the second-fewest on the team. She will look to improve in the field, however, as she has six passed balls and two errors through her 19 games as catcher. She has caught only one of 16 runners attempting to steal, an area she’ll need to focus on going forward.
Freshman Katie Alexander and sophomore utility player Aidan Falk will also see some time catching for the pitching staff. Falk has homered three times to begin the year and has added 14 RBI. She will look to cut down on her strikeouts, though, as she has 11, the second-most on the team.
Blanco starts at first base, as she did last year, in addition to her role in the circle. She has gone on a tear this season for the Wolverines, hitting .426 with 24 RBI, second-best on the team in both categories. She slugs a fantastic .607 and has remained errorless in the field. Falk and freshman Faith Canfield have also received some playing time at the position.
For the past three years, the Wolverines’ infield has been anchored by Sierra Romero, and this season is no exception. After spending her first two years at shortstop, Romero began a successful transition to second base last year and commands the position again. Romero is currently in the midst of a 14-game hitting streak and leads Michigan in every triple crown category. Additionally, she leads the team in runs, slugging percentage and total bases.
For her third straight year, junior Abby Ramirez will look to continue to start double plays in the infield. Thus far, she leads the Wolverines with five as well as 37 putouts. Offensively, Ramirez ranks third on the team in batting average with a solid .413 and has adjusted well to her new spot in the lineup as the number two hitter.
Despite junior Lindsay Montemarano’s hitting struggles — her batting average is .153 — she still has a substantial hold on the third-base position. Early-season slumps have become commonplace for the junior, but her defense has remained consistent with a .944 fielding percentage.
Canfield has also garnered time at the hot corner this year, and if she improves her hitting, she could see even more chances. Sophomore Amanda Vargas continues to impress at the plate, hitting two pinch-hit home runs, and she may see more opportunities in the field.
Michigan is led by three top veteran outfielders, including two All-Americans in junior Kelly Christner and senior Sierra Lawrence. Rounding out the outfield is senior Kelsey Susalla, who also had a breakout performance last season.
Along with Romero, Lawrence is the only other player to have started all four years. Lawrence had an on-base percentage of .625 and stole two bases last weekend, in a time when many Wolverines struggled at the plate. She continues to thrive in the leadoff spot, leading the team in stolen bases — stealing nine in nine attempts — and ranks fourth on the team in batting average.
Susalla has maintained her previous season’s offensive prowess, hitting five home runs, good for second-best on the team. Christner, while still hitting a solid .324, has cooled off a bit from her superb All-American performance last year. She hopes her movement in the batting order from the third to the sixth spot will continue to improve her hitting.