The No. 23 Michigan softball team (16-4 Big Ten) started its season on a somewhat inconsistent note, but have now righted the ship, winning 12 of its last 14 games. Now, they sit atop the Big Ten standings based on winning percentage — though it is important to note they have played fewer games than their peers at the top.
This recent success isn’t rooted in a few players carrying the weight, but an all-around effort from each aspect of their roster. For continued success, that trend needs to continue throughout the rest of the season.
Ahead of its first homestand in two years against in-state rival Michigan State (7-13), and then Maryland (11-13), The Daily breaks down the 2021 Michigan softball roster.
Might as well lead with the ace, or, in Michigan’s case, aces. Senior southpaw Meghan Beaubien and junior right-hander Alex Storako have been a two-headed monster on the mound this season. The pair are both top 25 nationally in ERA, with Beaubien ranked 16th with 0.94 and Storako ranked fifth with 0.49. In tandem, they have led the Wolverines to the nation’s lowest ERA of 0.87.
With a 6-2 record, Beaubien started the season strong, giving up 41 hits while notching 106 strikeouts across 65 and a third innings pitched. She also earned her fifth career no-hitter against Nebraska. Storako has had similar success on the mound and has intensified into a big-time closer for Michigan, earning a 10-2 record. Across her 71 innings pitched, Storako has put up big numbers, allowing just 30 hits and striking out 131 batters thus far.
The duo has also carved out a slice of history so far this season. Both Storako and Beaubien have tied the program record for strikeouts in a game — Storako on March 11 against Nebraska (14-10) and Beaubien against Purdue (7-17) on February 26 — with the mark of 19 set by Jennie Ritter all the way back in 2006.
“I have said all along our pitchers have done a fantastic job of doing their part,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said when. “They keep us in every game … and I think they are very structured, they’re methodical and they’re very one-pitch focused, and I just want to see them continue it.”
The pair have been so strong early in the season that Michigan has hardly seen any other pitchers in the circle. The pitchers other than Storako and Beaubien that have seen action have pitched just three and a third-innings so far, and played inconsistently in each of those innings. The Wolverines certainly want production out of senior right-handed pitcher Sarah Schaefer and sophomore right-hander Chandler Dennis, but the validity of those two options remains unknown.
Michigan will need Beaubien and Storako to continue delivering as they have been to succeed this season
The catching spot has been one of equal consistency for the Wolverines. In 19 of their first 20 games, resuming her role from last year, junior Hannah Carson sat behind the plate. She’s having her best season next to the plate as well, batting 0.317. On the season she has 20 hits, eight RBI and powered two home runs the weekend prior at Indiana.
The only game Carson did not play catcher went to freshman Keke Tholl. And though Tholl is without much experience — she has appeared in just six games so far — it would appear that she will have the responsibility of the backup catcher.
The first base position has not been quite as consistent as the catcher or the pitcher. Early on in the season, senior Taylor Bump consistently fulfilled the duties there. Halfway through the young season, though, senior Lou Allan moved to the position and has held the role ever since –– a similar tune to last year’s lineup.
Allan has had a strong start to the year, starting 19 games and getting a hit in 15 while batting 0.322 and slugging 0.576. Allan also had a big weekend in the team’s last series against Ohio State, hitting three over the fence and keeping her average above 0.321.
So, for the time being, it would appear that the first base position will be held by Allan going into opening weekend, though don’t be surprised to see Bump show up there again before the season ends.
Second Base and Shortstop:
After getting moved off the position last year, senior Natalia Rodriguez reclaimed her role and become a mainstay at shortstop so far this season. She’s started in all 20 games for Michigan heading into this weekend and has hit the ball at a much more consistent clip — with a 0.309 batting percentage — compared to last year. After a strong opening two games against Indiana two weekends ago, she even found herself batting second in the order, remaining there ever since.
Second base has mostly seen two players this season with freshman Sierra Kersten holding the role for the first nine games and sophomore Julia Jimenez starting at the position since. After a successful — albeit short — freshman season, Jimenez has picked up where she left off. She’s started all 20 games so far this season for the Wolverines. Batting 0.295, she has found herself typically in the middle of the lineup.
The now-second baseman, Jimenez started the season at third base, but ever since her move to second, Bump has held it down.
Bump has been a consistent face in the starting lineup so far this season, starting 18 games and getting a hit in 14 of them. She’s batted 0.268 so far this season which is a sizable jump from her 0.171 average last year. In addition to her batting average, Bump’s on-base and slugging percentage have also taken a leap this year. And while she has only one home run so far this season, that home run came last weekend against the Buckeyes and, well, just watch for yourself.
The outfield has had its share of new faces throughout the season, but two have become mainstays as of late. Junior Lexie Blair started all 20 games, with most coming at center field. After her slow start to the 2020 season, Blair started picking it up and was playing well right before the season was cut short. This year, she’s back with a vengeance and is trending toward career highs in several statistics. She leads the team in batting average and slugging percentage with 0.478 and 0.754 respectively, and has found herself as the leadoff hitter for Michigan all year long. She also leads the team in RBI, runs and hits. Blair is a star for the Wolverines, so far, and if they want to continue playing deep into May and even June, they’ll need Blair to keep this up.
“I think she’s got a level — that elite level of playing where she demands a lot of herself,” Hutchins said. “But she doesn’t get in her own way … she’s done a really good job of taking the pressure off herself and enjoying being that spark plug for us. She’s having fun.”
Then there’s Kersten. She started the year at second base and has since slotted to the left of Blair in each of the last 11 games. A highly touted recruit out of high school, she’s started in all 20 games so far this season. Kersten has found some success near the end of Michigan’s batting order, hitting 0.267 and producing eight RBI.
The final outfield role started the season as a shared position, but has now found some consistency as of late. Through the first 12 games, it was anyone’s spot, seeing senior Haley Hoogenraad, sophomore Lexi Voss and graduate student Thais Gonzalez in the mix.
However, the honors of right field have gone to Hoogenraad in the last eight games, making her the seemingly de facto starter for this weekend. Hoogenraad is no stranger to the starting lineup either, and her experience is one of the things that has given her an edge so far. Still, she has struggled behind the plate, posting a career-low in batting average with 0.206.
Michigan has been playing well, simple as that. It has started to really find its footing on offense, and bolstered by a pitching duo that absolutely suffocates the opposing team, things are looking up for the Wolverines.
1 Lexie Blair (CF)
2 Natalia Rodriguez (SS)
3 Hannah Carson (C)
4 Lauren Esman (DP)
5 Lou Allan (1B)
6 Julia Jimenez (2B)
7 Taylor Bump (3B)
8 Haley Hoogenraad (RF)
9 Sierra Kersten (LF)
P Meghan Beaubien