On Friday, No. 15 seed Michigan softball will face off with St. Francis (PA) in the first game of the NCAA Regional. A win advances the Wolverines to a second game against the winner of the DePaul-James Madison matchup. Meanwhile, a loss would send Michigan into the backdraw to play the loser of that game.
But the Wolverines shouldn’t sweat too much: the Red Flash have only won one of their six games against Big Ten opponents this season. While the Wolverines haven’t played St. Francis this season, earlier losses to teams like Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State show the Red Flash’s vulnerability, despite their 39 wins on the season.
Even with a .500 record, St. Francis’ strength of schedule lacked this year, with only two games against ranked opponents and a lackluster Northeast conference. The Red Flash recorded an 8-0 loss to the Spartans and an 11-0 run rule loss to Toledo, a team that Michigan defeated 24-3 in its five-inning meeting with the Rockets this year. Those performances, along with others for St. Francis, should give Michigan confidence going into Friday’s game.
But even so, other earlier matchups, like the Red Flash’s close 3-1 loss to No. 8 seed Alabama shows that it can hang with tough teams.
The spark to get over the hump may come from the leadership of St. Francis senior outfielders Hayley Norton and Sierra McKee, who posted a .372 batting average with 16 home runs and a .339 batting average with 14 home runs, respectively. Leading the team in home runs on the season, the senior pair could be batters to watch this game.
Additionally, Red Flash freshman pitcher Christina Clark leads the team with 171.2 innings pitched and a 4.69 ERA. Though Clark’s ERA is the lowest on her team, her figure is more than double of sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien and freshman right-hander Alex Storako, one of whom will likely start in the circle for the Wolverines. With Michigan starting last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament on an offensive lag against Illinois, capitalizing on Clark’s high ERA will be important for the Wolverines to start the tournament on the right foot.
Even with power hitters and close games sprinkled throughout the season for St. Francis, Michigan has posted higher statistics both offensively and defensively against better competition. And that experience and momentum — with the Wolverines playing at their own Alumni Field — should take hold of Friday’s game to kick off the NCAA Tournament.