In the Michigan softball team’s loss to Northwestern last Friday, Sierra Romero filled in at shortstop. As a routine ground ball made its way to the senior, it slipped through her legs, allowing two Wildcats to score. And with the added cushion of those two runs, Northwestern survived the Wolverines’ spirited seventh-inning comeback and won, 13-12.
The next day, Romero moved back to second base as junior shortstop Abby Ramirez made her return to the field, injecting a sense of normalcy into Michigan’s infield and exuding confidence in the lineup.
“(Ramirez) is a player who shows up to do her part,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “That is one of the things I love about her the most.”
Though she usually hits second, Ramirez hit ninth and notched one hit in four at-bats, keeping her batting average above .400.
“I thought she did as well as she could do,” Hutchins said. “I don’t think she is … 100 percent or her speed is all there, but we just need her to do the best with what she has.”
In Ramirez’s three-game absence, due to an ankle injury, Hutchins inserted freshman Faith Canfield at second base for Romero. Canfield excelled, hitting .333 with a home run and three RBI.
“Faith is a role player, not a bench player,” Hutchins said. “Her role is to fill in where we need her and … she is very capable of doing anything we need her to do.”
As strength is restored to the Wolverines’ middle infield, questions surround the rest of No. 2 Michigan (2-1 Big Ten, 24-3 overall) as it prepares for three away games in Bloomington against Indiana (3-0, 20-10).
During the Wolverines’ collapse on Friday, catcher Alex Sobczak’s inexperience showed itself as the freshman struggled to deal with low-thrown pitches, allowing several to make their way to the backstop.
Sobczak lost her place in the lineup for the series’ final two games, giving way to sophomore catcher Aidan Falk.
Hutchins gave no hints as to who will be catching against the Hoosiers, stating only that, “(Sobczak) is one of our catchers.”
Though uncertainty marks the catcher position, there is little doubt as to the improved performances of junior pitcher Megan Betsa on Saturday and Sara Driesenga on Friday.
Coming into Friday’s game in a relief role, Betsa struggled, garnering zero outs, walking three and allowing four earned runs. Saturday, Betsa continued to give up an inordinate amount of walks — five in total — but found a way to work through jams, as 12 strikeouts proved to be the difference between further Northwestern scoring and Michigan returning to bat.
As the public relations department touted the game as “Sara Driesenga Day,” last Friday turned out to be anything but for the hard-throwing right-hander. While Driesenga started in commanding fashion, the top of Northwestern’s lineup got to her in the fifth inning, when she put two early runners on base. The Wildcats used that as a springboard to construct a seven-run scoring inning.
Returning to the mound for the series finale, Driesenga tossed four solid innings, allowing only one earned run and restoring confidence to Michigan’s beleaguered pitching staff.
As Betsa and Driesenga return to their confident selves, the return of defensive stalwart Ramirez is sure to be a boon for the defense. However, it won't solve all of the Wolverines' problems, as more consistency from the pitching staff holds the key to Michigan's success against the Hoosiers.