Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins isn’t dwelling on last year’s Women’s College World Series loss to Florida. She also hasn’t been thinking about the rematch slated for Saturday against the top-ranked Gators.
“The only team I am excited for is Michigan,” Hutchins said. “I never care who we are playing.”
While Hutchins is firmly focused on her Wolverines, the attention of collegiate softball fans this weekend will be on Tampa, Fla., as the USF Wilson-Demarini Tournament will pit No. 2 Michigan against South Carolina, Illinois State, Florida, South Florida and Virginia Tech.
For the Wolverines, this weekend not only marks the beginning of Hutchins’ 32nd year at the helm, but provides Michigan with an early chance at revenge.
The Gators, who won their second straight national championship last June, return a bevy of starters from last year’s team and boast a highly touted pitching staff that includes Saturday’s probable starter, right-hander Aleshia Ocasio.
Ocasio has already racked up several memorable moments against the Wolverines. Her highlights include recording three strikeouts against Michigan in the first game of the 2015 Women’s College World Series championship series and earning her first-ever victory for Florida against Michigan last February.
While Ocasio is sure to stir up bad memories among Wolverine hitters, junior outfielder Kelly Christner feels her team has shed the skeletons of last year’s disappointments.
“We do not need to go into any game any differently than before,” Christner said. “We have enough skill, we have enough talent … (to go) in there with high confidence and play normal.”
While talent will be abundant in the title-game rematch, it won’t be restricted to just that game. Both South Carolina and Virginia Tech also made last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Friday morning, Michigan will take on South Carolina, and with no time to rest, the Wolverines will get right back on the diamond that afternoon to take on Illinois State. Last year, Michigan defeated the Redbirds, 4-1, in the same tournament.
The big question for the Wolverines is who will be on the mound. With right-hander Megan Betsa picking up an injury in practice this week, there is no indication she will be healthy in time or who will fill in the gap. Hutchins is adamant that she will use the full depth of her pitching rotation, considering the team is welcoming back fifth-year right-hander Sara Driesenga and sophomore right-hander Tera Blanco.
“We have at least 50 games scheduled,” Hutchins said. “We have a pitching staff … and for (Betsa) to be effective, we need a staff.”
If Betsa pitches against the Gators, the onus will fall on either Blanco or Driesenga on Saturday afternoon against South Florida. Last year, Michigan defeated the Bulls, 4-3.
While an early-season win against the No. 1 preseason team would be a statement victory for the Wolverines, Hutchins reiterated the fact that she refuses to focus on the hype and speculation that fill up the days leading into a new season.
“I am not going to focus on the other teams,” Hutchins said. “This is not about Florida, or anybody, but Michigan.”