Kelly Christner, Megan Betsa, Lindsay Montemarano and Abby Ramirez have been through plenty of highs and lows in their careers together.
Together, they have made the Women’s College World Series twice in three seasons, only to fall just short of winning. Together, they’ve won a Big Ten title each season. Together, they’ve had wildly successful careers, but have also faced the brunt of the criticism for this year’s struggles.
Together, the four seniors play their final home regular season series at Alumni Field against Indiana this weekend.
Michigan (14-3 Big Ten, 34-10-1 overall) comes into the weekend looking to complete its first weekend sweep since it took all three games against Northwestern at the beginning of the month.
Sparked by a drastic lineup change Saturday against Wisconsin, the Wolverines’ offense exploded for 18 runs in two consecutive run-rule victories to take the series. The two-game offensive output was the most runs the team has posted in back-to-back games since it scored 25 against Penn State on March 25-26.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins hopes last weekend is just a start. She knows that maintaining the offensive consistency will be key to peaking at the right time, as her team heads down the stretch run.
“They worked hard to implement the game plan, and we did a much better job,” Hutchins said. “Once we get things going, we’re contagious.”
“We are working to get better, we are hoping to hit our best stride by the time we get to the tournament. That is our goal, to be our best selves at tournament time.”
This weekend should provide a litmus test for how far this offense has come. Will it wilt back into the inconsistent group that failed to score in 11 innings Friday against Wisconsin? Or will it assert itself as the team that scored 18 the next two days?
“I’m trying to get some consistency in our lineup, but we’re not consistent,” Hutchins said on WTKA this week. “If I have to prod them with a pitchfork, I guess we’re going to have to find a way to get them to respond.”
The Hoosiers enter the weekend below .500 (8-9, 22-25), but fresh off a sweep of Maryland at home. While Hutchins knows Indiana can be “a little up and down,” she is eager to see how her offense responds against the Hoosiers’ right-hander Tara Trainor.
“They’ve got a good pitcher in Tara Trainor and we’re going to need to score some runs,” Hutchins said. “It’s time for us to open up, and I’m hoping, with finals over, that we can lighten up and start to have a little fun on the field.”
At the beginning of the season, the four seniors stepped into unenviable shoes: those of Sierra Romero, Sierra Lawrence, Kelsey Susalla and Sara Driesenga. Having to fill shoes of that pedigree them would leave even the most qualified juniors intimidated.
Montemarano, though, recognized that leadership isn’t limited strictly to their record on the field.
“In our culture, (Hutchins) stresses a lot ‘leave the program better than you found it,’” Montemarano said at the beginning of the year. “I think that’s not just with wins and losses but it’s about the people that you become. Once you provide being a good teammate, being a good person and being respectful to the ‘block M’ and to the school, I think that’s the number one goal that we as seniors need to pass on to the freshman.”
It’s a group that will go down fondly in the history books of Michigan softball, having escaped the shadow of the class before them and carved their own legacies.
But it’s also a group that has yet to write its final chapter.