On softball: Don't pitch to Sierra Romero

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By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 27, 2013

Automatic, supersonic, hypnotic, funky fresh. When freshman shortstop Sierra Romero steps up to home plate at Alumni Field, she is introduced by artist Ciara’s “1, 2 Step,” a song released when Romero was a 10-year-old in Little League. The lyrics seem only fitting.

Automatic: Romero represents one of Michigan’s two freshmen recruits on scholarship — along with freshman outfielder Sierra Lawrence. The hitting phenom was the automatic choice for Michigan coach Carol Hutchins at shortstop following Romero’s commitment to Michigan in November of 2011. It was a decision that moved senior co-captain Amy Knapp to third base after three years as the Wolverines’ starting shortstop.

As a high-school All-American in 2011 and a candidate for California’s Ms. Softball during in her senior year, Romero is no stranger to the home run. With 11 homers through the first two months of her collegiate career, Romero is on pace to surpass her high school total (45) in three seasons. The transition, says Romero, is one she has enjoyed.

“The pitchers are a lot better,” Romero said. “In high school, you got away with some things, but here you don’t get away with much. I like how fast it is. It’s so upbeat. Every game in college is a big deal.”

Romero acts as the catalyst for a Michigan offense that relies on big innings. In Wednesday’s game versus Bowling Green, Romero contributed the first hit of the game en route to the Wolverines’ six-run first inning.

Supersonic: While Lawrence and several of the other freshmen have struggled to find their way into the starting lineup, Romero has proven to be the Wolverines’ most valuable player.

The freshman leads her team in every offensive category, except strikeouts and walks. After the Wolverines’ home opener, Romero is batting .400 with a super-human .840 slugging percentage. Her 11 home runs are complemented by seven doubles and two triples.

In the home opener against Purdue, Romero went 7-for-7 with three home runs before the Boilermakers decided it was time to give up on trying to keep the slugger off base. And so, Romero one-two-stepped her way to first base four straight times in the series finale.

It was a performance that earned her a third honor as Big Ten Freshman of the Week and Player of the Week.

Hypnotic: With sophomore pitcher Haylie Wagner, a current NFCA Player of the Year candidate, making a steady recovery from a back injury, the pitching responsibility has fallen primarily on the arm of sophomore pitcher Sara Driesenga.

But Driesenga will have off days, and offense, then, has to step up without a deep pitching staff waiting on in relief. A word of advice: don’t pitch to Romero.

It’s only a matter of time until the Big Ten figures out Romero’s power (if they haven’t already). The name of the game, then, according to Hutchins, will be to protect her bat in the lineup. But, for the time being, the Wolverines are struggling to find a threat in the cleanup spot.

“We certainly rely on Romo a lot,” Hutchins said. “They’re gonna quit, and she’s going to have to accept that. We’re going to have to put some people behind her.”

Driesenga, who has been in the clean-up slot for the majority of the season, has struggled of late with a .269 batting average. The slump has given junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard an opportunity to hit. After her weekend performance, Blanchard was the choice for Hutchins behind Romero.

“We have to hit through the lineup either way,” Hutchins said. “The best way to protect her is by having other people step up behind her.”

Perhaps the answer lies in senior second baseman Ashley Lane, whose power numbers are second to Romero on the team with a .356 batting average and a .600 slugging percentage. But until the offense finds a second spark, don’t pitch to Romero.

Funky Fresh: It remains to be seen whether Romero is “funky fresh” off the field. Stay tuned.