Driesenga, Betsa continue dominant pitching run

James Coller/Daily
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By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 8, 2014

Freshman right-hander Megan Betsa pitched a no-hitter last week against Detroit. Tuesday against Western Michigan, the Michigan softball team switched it up — it tried for a combined no-hitter between Betsa and junior right-hander Sara Driesenga.

The Wolverines would have gotten it had it not been for a one-out bloop single in the fifth inning.

That’s how things have been in the circle for the past month — anyone coach Carol Hutchins puts out there, including junior left-hander Haylie Wagner, does the job.

“It definitely gives us a huge advantage when there’s three of us,” Driesenga said. “When we’re all healthy, that gives (Hutchins) more options. We could just split games and we’d be still effective if all three of us are feeling good.”

Tuesday, Driesenga and Betsa stretched Michigan’s streak of innings without an earned run to 28. If not for a second-inning error by senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard on Sunday against Ohio State, the Wolverines would not have given up a run since March 29.

Even then, Wagner went out with a 12-run lead in the fifth inning and, according to Hutchins, was just trying to end the game before the rain postponed it. Before that, the streak stretches back to the previous weekend.

Wagner pitched a complete-game one-hitter Saturday against Ohio State and continues to lead the Big Ten with a 0.94 earned-run average, so Hutchins decided heading into Tuesday’s game to split the innings between Driesenga and Betsa.

“I wanted her and Sara both to get some innings today and just keep working on their game, regardless of what their opponent was doing,” Hutchins said. “We can’t control the opponent, so just control what you do and your pitches.”

Because Hutchins has divided the innings for most of the season, the Wolverines have only one of the Big Ten’s top 19 pitchers in innings pitched. They do, however, have three of the top six in earned-run average.

After a slow start, Driesenga has given up only one run in her past 25.2 innings. She retired nine of the 10 hitters she faced Tuesday and did so even more efficiently than Sunday against Ohio State. Including a first-inning, seven-pitch walk, Driesenga got ahead of eight of 10 hitters.

Betsa has started a hot streak more recently. In the first Big Ten outing of her career, she walked two and gave up two earned runs in one-plus innings, getting pulled after a solo shot to lead off the second inning.

The following weekend at Penn State, Hutchins started Wagner twice and Driesenga once, sitting Betsa the whole weekend.

But that weekend turned it around for her. Since then, the freshman hasn’t surrendered an earned run and has struck out 22 in 13 innings, making her arguably the most dominant of the three in the past week.

“I think she got determined, and I don’t know if that Penn State weekend affected her, but it was intended to,” Hutchins said.

Betsa has changed her routine a bit, throwing bullpen sessions with a blue cutout to simulate a hitter. She also started coming in on Mondays, normally the team’s off day.

Tuesday, a flyout to left field, grounder to third and bloop single were the only balls in play in two innings against Betsa. The freshman fanned four, mixing up the pitches and throwing her live rise-ball up in the zone.

A five-inning one-hitter against Western Michigan hardly translates to success down the road — as Driesenga said, it’s sometimes hard to play at 100 percent all the time.

But after a brief shake-up in the first two weekends of the Big Ten season, Michigan appears to have three of the best pitchers in the Big Ten in the mix once again.