Hard work in offseason sparks Lawrence

James Coller/Daily
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By Max Bultman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 26, 2014

When the Michigan softball team went on Winter Break, Carol Hutchins gave them homework.

The Michigan coach gave each player a copy of Tim S. Grover’s Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, a book meant to teach athletes how to harness their intensity and turn it into killer instinct.

Early in the season, it looks as though the Wolverines have done their homework and done it diligently.

After splitting 10 games with ranked teams in non-conference play, Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 22-6 overall) thumped Indiana by a combined 29-4 in three games over the weekend.

Junior left-hander Haylie Wagner has jumped out to a 15-0 start with a 0.83 ERA, and sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero leads the Big Ten in batting average, home runs and RBI.

But the clearest example of that offseason growth comes with sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence. While she had already earned a first team All-Big Ten distinction last season, Lawrence has played at a new level this year.

“She has great hands, she has a great eye, but her timing was just off,” Hutchins said. “Her timing is a lot better this year, and her confidence is a lot better. And that’s the goal — you want them to get better from year to year.”

In her standout freshman campaign, Lawrence batted .314 with 38 RBI and seven home runs in 63 games. Those are tough numbers to improve on for any player, freshman or otherwise.

But through 25 appearances this season, she’s hitting .357 with 28 RBI and three home runs already.

She’s on pace to double her freshman RBI total, and her on base percentage has risen from .392 to .466.

And all of it, Lawrence says, is a result of her offseason growth.

“I worked on everything, basically,” Lawrence said. “Offense, defense, my mentality, just everything.”

Perhaps the most startling aspect of her torrid pace is that it has come against the nation’s top competition — something she won’t see much of for the rest of the regular season.

If Lawrence was able to produce that consistently against the best, it’s hard to imagine what she will do when facing a much weaker Big Ten schedule.

“For (Lawrence), the sky is the limit,” Hutchins said. “I thought she had a ton of untapped potential last year.”

That potential is showing itself every time Lawrence comes to bat.

Whereas the Wolverines have faltered from time to time with runners in scoring position, Lawrence has come through to the tune of a .429 batting average and 28 RBI.

She has been even better with the bases loaded, when she’s gone 4-for-5 with two grand slams.

“I just know my team is looking up to me and expecting me to step up when it’s time,” Lawrence said.

That kind of attitude resonates through the whole team. Senior outfielders Nicole Sappingfield and Lyndsay Doyle have made similar comments after clutch hits late in games, and it’s somewhat of a catch phrase for Romero.

That’s no accident.

Hutchins handpicks books like Relentless to instill that mindset in her players, and it works.

Chapter and verse.