In the Michigan softball team’s season opener Feb. 9, infielder Indiana Langford was the only freshman who entered the game — and she played less than two innings.
But by the end of the five-game weekend, all five healthy freshmen on the roster had made an impact in their first collegiate games. Michigan coach Bonnie Tholl put it simply:
“They were filling our needs.”
One of those needs was versatility. Having players that excel in multiple positions afforded Tholl more freedom in creating lineups. For example, Langford demonstrated her ability to impact the game from both the infield and outfield — starting two games at second base and one at left field.
“We recruited her as a middle infielder, but then as I watched her play this past year, she got really good experience in the outfield as well,” Tholl said Tuesday. “She’s a great sight for coaches who like versatility, like the ability to move people around.”
Tholl used moves like that to maneuver the lineup to her team’s advantage. In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Langford pinch ran for junior catcher Keke Tholl. Then, because of Langford’s multifaceted skill set, Bonnie placed her at second base, moving graduate utility player Melina Livingston to first base and junior Ryleigh Carricaburu from first base to catcher to replace Keke.
All the players’ abilities to switch positions allowed Bonnie to maximize success in her lineup.
“As a team, we have a lot of people that can play at a lot of different positions,” sophomore outfielder Ellie Sieler said. “Having them to be flexible like that, just being able to go wherever they’re needed is really awesome.”
Langford also brings a burst of speed to the game with her extensive track background. She earned Nike Track All-American honors in 2022 and was a national finalist in the 4×400-meter relay. Bonnie has already made use of Langford’s speed, letting her pinch run for strong batters.
“She’s an exciting player that can make a lot of things happen on the base path,” Bonnie said. “We’re gonna utilize her speed to do so.”
Speed is also essential in fielding, which was made especially apparent in Sunday’s no-hitter against Portland State. While junior right-hander Jessica LeBeau received well-deserved credit for the performance, the players around her helped make the success possible.
“Our speed on this team is unbelievable,” LeBeau said. “Just having the speed in the infield and the outfield, they can get to so many different balls.”
With defensive success showing itself early, the Wolverines also needed increased offensive production after only managing to score one run against Southern Florida in the season opener.
To do so, Bonnie introduced freshman third baseman and right-hander Maddie Erickson to the starting lineup in Friday’s game against Colgate. Although not listed as a first baseman, Erickson started all four weekend games at first base in order to bring her offensive skill set to the batter’s box.
“As the weekend went on, we decided that we were gonna put some more of what we believe is offensive potential in the game,” Bonnie said. “I think the more at bats that Maddie Erickson gets, the better she’ll become and the better she’ll be able to manage her at bats and manage the strike zone.”
Erickson tallied three hits and an RBI over the weekend, leading to a .273 average. While she isn’t producing stellar batting numbers yet, she certainly held her own at first base, earning a .950 fielding percentage. Her fielding success and Bonnie’s belief in her offensive capabilities likely mean she will remain a constant in the lineup.
Whether they made a big mark on the stat sheet, acted as a pinch runner or simply fielded a couple outs, the freshmen Wolverines made their mark on Michigan’s 4-1 start. Despite the youth of both the freshmen and the season, the Wolverines have already shown their ability to adapt and contribute in different ways for the benefit of the team.