Through 23 games, the No. 2 Michigan softball team looks ready as ever to make another run to the Women’s College World Series.
Its offense scores 8.50 runs per game, the seventh best in the country, and four of the Wolverines’ starters are hitting over .400, including first baseman Tera Blanco.
But Blanco provides more than just support from the batter’s box, she also adds much-needed pitching depth to Michigan’s rotation.
Coming off a season in which the Wolverines relied on two pitchers because of an injury to fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga, Blanco gives Michigan an experienced third starter.
As a freshman last year, Blanco thrived as a regular starter at first base. She finished second on the team in fielding percentage with a .982 clip and hit a respectable .291. In the circle, she pitched 7.2 innings with an ERA of 0.91.
Though she has played in just 23 games, Blanco seems primed for a breakout season at the plate — batting .435 with a slugging percentage of .635, good for second and third on the team, respectively.
When recruiting Blanco two years ago, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins knew she would play both first base and pitch from the circle. Hutchins praised Blanco’s confidence, especially from the offensive perspective of her game. Pitching-wise, there are still areas for improvement.
“I want her to pitch with the kind of confidence that she (hits and fields) with,” Hutchins said. “And she’s gaining it. Every time she gets out there (in the circle).”
Blanco demonstrated this improvement in her most recent start, a far cry from her first appearance against No. 1 Florida. The Gators dominated the Wolverines that day, winning 8-0 in a run-rule victory. Blanco struggled mightily in that game, failing to pitch out of the third inning and allowing seven runs, five of them earned.
Last weekend facing Dayton, Blanco pitched seven shutout innings and struck out six while walking none. In the process, she lowered her earned-run average to 2.33. She added two hits and an RBI en route to her second win on the season.
As the only Michigan pitcher who regularly gets at-bats, Blanco needs to be prepared.
“You just gotta find time to get your hitting in,” Blanco said. “(Even when) you’re pitching in practice.”
As Michigan’s season continues, look for Blanco to continue raking at the plate and improving her focus during each start at the circle.
It is imperative that Blanco continue to gain opportunities pitching, as she will likely be the number two starter next year after the graduation of Driesenga.
She already has learned a great deal from her and from junior right-handed pitcher Megan Betsa. For Blanco, Betsa might be as good of a mentor as she needs in the circle. Last year, in her sophomore season, Betsa helped Michigan to the finals of the WCWS. She threw 211.1 innings and pitched shutout ball for the Wolverines in the final game, despite their loss.
Betsa demonstrates that though she is young, she can succeed in critical moments.
“I learn a lot from them,” Blanco said. “(When I watch) them and everything, (I see) how relaxed they are.
As for Hutchins, she summed it up best.
“A confident player is twice as good as the same exact player who doesn’t have confidence,” Hutchins said.
For Blanco to remain successful, she must maintain this level of high confidence and poise she shows at the plate when she winds up in the circle. The Wolverines will need her.