After a month on the road that saw the Michigan softball team face the toughest competition it will see all season, and numerous travel fiascos, the Wolverines are finally headed home.
Through its first 19 games, Michigan has gotten off to a solid start with a 13-6 record and ranked wins over No. 10 Kentucky, No. 13 Duke, No. 21 LSU and No. 24 Central Florida. And in recent weeks, the Wolverines have finally found their rhythm at the plate, with production coming from everywhere in the batting order.
With the stint of road games coming to a close, Michigan will kick off home play with ten straight home games. And while being back home and in front of their home supporters appeals to the Wolverines, it does come with its own unique challenges, key among them being the weather.
While February and March may be considered spring in the NCAA’s eyes, the state of Michigan’s weather gods haven’t quite gotten the memo, and weather has already had an impact on Michigan’s schedule.
Thursday’s double header was originally scheduled for Saturday, but after predictions of snow on Friday and below freezing temperatures Saturday, the Wolverines and the Golden Flashes agreed to move the double-header up two days, still keeping Sunday’s game untouched.
Another challenge that Michigan’s players will face when playing at home is learning how to shift their routines.
“The very first game can sometimes be one of the most difficult,” Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins said. “Because we are now in a totally unfamiliar routine. They wake up in their room or dorm, they go about their business and go to class, and then they show up for the game.”
While changing routines may be challenging for the Wolverines, the weekend’s competition shouldn’t be. Kent State is 6-7 so far, and has frequently been blown out of the water by teams above its caliber. The Golden Flashes have lost three games by mercy rule. These losses include a 13-0 beatdown from No. 14 Clemson, a 9-1 loss at the hands of No. 13 Kentucky and another 13-0 shellacking against Michigan.
The Wolverines are in a prime position to emerge from their home opener with a sweep. But as always, winning comes down to more than just talent, and Michigan’s mindset can’t be rattled by shifting routines.
“When we’re on the road we’re all together, we’re all about each other, we’re all about the game,” Hutchins said. “And now they’re all coming from their various parts of life and they have to learn to switch routines for their home games. It’s a quick switch.”
While Kent State isn’t a goliath, it does have some players to look out for. At the plate, Golden Flashes utility player Savannah Wing has had an impressive start to her collegiate career. Batting .393 and leading Kent State with six RBIs, Wing is a player that has the capability to do damage.
As a whole though, Kent State is a small ball team. Cumulatively, it has just 12 extra base hits, only five of which are home runs. So if the Wolverines’ pitching can prevent multi-hit innings, they will likely be able to shut the Golden Flashes’ offense down.
In the circle, all three of Kent State’s starters are similar in caliber, and the Wolverines may face all of them. All of the Golden Flashes starting pitchers have an ERA between 2.21 and 2.77, but they have a tendency to fold against better competition and allow opponents to quickly run up the score.
This weekend’s games give Michigan a major opportunity to have a triumphant return. And while weather and new routines may be a disrupting factor, the Wolverines are more excited that they are anxious.
“We’re just ready,” Widra said. “We’re ready to go.”