The Michigan softball team huddles in a circle next to their dugout, wearing white shirts and blue pants. Some of them have different colored ribbons in their hair.
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It was nothing new for Ellie Mataya when she was slotted to bat first for the Michigan softball team before Saturday’s double header against Western Kentucky. 

Having spent four years as a starter at Boston College before joining the Wolverines, the graduate right fielder provided experience and a reliable bat that proved to be the offenses’ spark plug last weekend.

“She’s somebody who’s in her fifth year of college softball. She knows how to manage her at bats and she’s not going to give away pitches,” Michigan coach Bonnie Tholl said. “And I think it sets a really good tone to start a game. We count on that experience.”

The career .327 hitter knows how to get on base. And in an offense that has started the season inconsistently, Mataya has been a reliable hitter and has provided scoring opportunities.

In the first game of the season against South Florida, she led off the sixth inning with a walk on a full count in a scoreless game. Fifth-year senior second baseman Melina Livingston then singled, and Mataya scored the team’s only run.

In similar fashion, the Wolverines struggled to grasp anything offensively in the second game of Saturday’s double header against Western Kentucky. And again Mataya led off the sixth inning, this time down 1-0, delivering a single to left field and was eventually brought home on an RBI triple to tie the game.

As she has demonstrated in just five games on her new team, getting on base is Mataya’s best attribute — and it always has been. That started at Boston College, where she primarily served as a slap hitter, and has translated to her batting at the top of the order for Michigan. But for the Wolverines, Mataya occupies an even bigger role. 

“She has historically been more of a slap type hitter,” Tholl said. “Now, I want to see her continue to swing away as much as possible, because I think that she can pick gaps (for) extra base hits.”

Now in an offense that scores in bursts, but is also prone to multi-inning scoreless droughts, Mataya has had to not only create a base runner but capitalize when she steps up to the plate with runners on base as well. That is a new role for Mataya, but she has excelled in it so far this season.

In Saturday’s first game — Mataya’s first batting leadoff — she showed her ability to be a potent offensive force.

Just as Tholl wanted, she came out swinging and opened the game with a double into the left field gap. She again became a base runner, but this time she got herself into scoring position with her bat. That bat continued to shine when she stepped up to the plate with runners on base. The next inning she kept swinging, laying down a two-run triple. Her experience prepared her for timely hitting, but she is now swinging for extra base hits.

“Having the four years under my belt just allows me to be comfortable in whatever situation that I’m gonna be presented in,” Mataya said. “I see transferring from my previous school to here as a gift and (I have) knowledge that I can use to perform at my best here.”

Michigan found a veteran in Mataya. She was expected to be a reliable everyday player who could provide the Wolverines’ power-hitters with a consistent base runner. But with a new approach at the plate, Mataya is off to a hot start — boasting a .438 batting average and five RBIs in the first five games. However, as the Wolverines begin to face stronger pitchers, base hits won’t come as easily for Mataya and it will be challenging to maintain the same offensive production.

Tholl hopes that Mataya can continue to swing away at the plate and lead the young lineup. If the offense continues to struggle for innings at a time, Mataya will need to maintain her ability to get on base and drive in runs.

Mataya finds herself in a familiar spot — atop the order — where she provides experience and reliability. But with a more aggressive approach at the plate, she has been one of the most consistent players in the Wolverines’ unreliable offense.