Rough waters have carried the No. 17 Michigan softball team into uncharted territory. Though the ship is far from wrecked, Wolverines’ coach Carol Hutchins is looking to plug any leaks sooner rather than later.
After dropping three of its four games at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Michigan (4-5) returned to Ann Arbor with a sub-.500 record through at least five games for the first time since 2001. The losing record isn’t the only issue the Wolverines brought back from Chapel Hill — mounting frustrations have manifested, too.
Right now, the vessel’s radar system is pointing to a number of different dangers.
“Our pitchers have a part to do, which is (execute) their process and limit the (opposing) offense,” Hutchins said. “Our defense’s job is to pick up the pitchers and take care of the ball. The offense’s job is to hit and score some runs. Right now, we’re not doing well in any of those categories.”
While Hutchins may be disappointed in the team’s overall performance, there are some positive takeaways outside of the turmoil. Michigan dominated Louisville, 6-0, Friday afternoon behind sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien’s one-hit shutout in its lone win of the weekend.
“We were really on task, we were sharp, we were crisp, and we had a great energy about us,” Hutchins said. “When we got there, we were excited to get to play. I was very pleased, and I thought we had improved from week one to week two.”
However, the Wolverines’ excitement was short lived.
Later that evening, the team was deadlocked with North Carolina going into the fifth inning. When freshman right-hander Alex Storako began showing signs of fatigue, Hutchins turned to Beaubien to finish the game.
Moments later, the ship sustained its first gash. Beaubien was rocked for five runs, plummeting Michigan into an insurmountable deficit. The team’s enduring problem didn’t lie in the deficit — rather, the root of the issue came in the form of its passive response.
“We gave up too many free bases and five runs in an inning,” Hutchins said. “Hit batters, errors and they got ahold of a couple. We didn’t stay as competitive.
“I don’t want to say (we lost) our confidence, but all of a sudden we got tentative. You can’t. You’re in the middle of a game, when you’re getting outplayed, you can’t play tentatively. We can’t play tentatively, we can’t pitch tentatively, we can’t hit tentatively and we can’t play defense tentatively.”
When the Wolverines’ defense faltered, they allowed the shortcomings to adversely affect them at the plate. After scoring six runs in the first game of the weekend, Michigan scored a combined total of six in the ensuing three losses.
“We need to start generating more offense in general,” Hutchins said. “Period. We need more bases, we need better cuts. If we’re guilty of anything, there’s no question, it’s that we’re trying too hard. We’ve got some kids that have power, but we just want to hit the ball hard. We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there. It’s tough.”
After failing to seize two chances to capture early-season statement victories against No. 5 Florida and No. 7 Arizona at last weekend’s Wilson-DeMarini Tournament, the Wolverines find themselves limping into an early crossroads.
Instead of pressing the panic button, Michigan is looking to use the experience to catalyze long-term growth.
“When you go through tough times, you’re meant to get tougher,” Hutchins said. “And that’s what it’ll do to you if you make the choice basically.”
For the Wolverines, the time to choose is now.