After the Michigan softball team’s loss to No. 19 Kentucky last Sunday, coach Carol Hutchins was unimpressed with the fortitude of her players.
“We need to be tough under pressure, whether it’s on the mound or at the plate,” Hutchins said. “We’re not getting consistency in those two areas and that’s not acceptable and not going to get us what we want.”
The Wolverines wanted to begin the 2017 campaign with a record stronger than 14-7-1, given the expectations created by a gluttony of successful years under Hutchins’ direction. Simply, they desired to be at the pinnacle of the college softball landscape.
With a mark of just 2-6-1 against ranked teams, however, Michigan has looked more like the trees at the base of a mountain than the peak itself.
But an opportunity to play in the Ann Arbor elements for the first time this season might help to instill the toughness Hutchins desires.
After having a contest against Bowling Green was postponed to next Tuesday, the Wolverines will welcome Kent State (8-10) to Alumni Field for a three-game series, including a double header on Saturday to open the home schedule.
The Golden Flashes and the Wolverines squared off last Sunday in the Jim Cropp Classic, with Michigan emerging victoriously, 5-1, behind junior righthander Tera Blanco’s career-high 13 strikeouts.
After spending most of her first two seasons playing first base, Blanco has become the second pitching option behind senior righthander Megan Betsa, with a 2.08 earned-run average in 10 starts. Blanco earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors for her effort against Kent State, solidifying her role in the rotation.
Yet, that toughness in the circle has not translated to offensive adeptness. Though Blanco remains a fixture at the middle of the order, she’s hitting just .218 this season, just one of many returning players currently not meeting expectations at the plate. On average, Michigan is scoring less than two runs per game than it did in 2016.
“We’re not playing the game of softball,” Hutchins said. “We are very inconsistent in that category.”
But Blanco bucked her downward trend at the plate in that win against the Golden Flashes, notching a hit and three RBIs. This weekend, she’ll need to build upon that to counter Kent State’s Holly Speers, who is hitting .333 with six home runs and 19 runs batted in. Speers was one of just two players to connect for a hit off Blanco last Sunday.
This weekend series offers Blanco and the Wolverines an opportunity to rebound from their lackluster offensive beginning to the 2017 season. And to Hutchins, another series means another chance for Michigan to get tougher.