Michigan softball needed a hero moment.
Against Fresno State, in the bottom of the ninth inning, locked in a scoreless tie, senior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad stepped up to the plate.
Pinch-running for Taylor Bump, freshman utility player Lauren Esman was on third, advancing from second on a sacrifice bunt after being placed there via international tiebreaker.
With seemingly no effort, Hoogenraad drilled the ball into the right-center field gap — where it fell between the Bulldogs’ right fielder Kelsey Hall and center fielder Mckenzie Wilson. As Esman crossed home, the extra-innings were over, the game finished. Michigan 1, Fresno State 0 — the final win in the Wolverines perfect 5-0 weekend at the USF-Rawlings Invitational.
“I was just thinking about trying to stick to my game plan, stuff that we had talked about in the dugout, stuff that we knew the pitcher was throwing,” Hoogenraad said. “I tried to remember that if I didn’t get it done, that my teammate would get it done behind me.”
Hoogenraad’s heroic moment was indicative of her success over the entire weekend. She accumulated four runs and three RBI en route to a .429 batting average over five games. She also had four doubles on the weekend.
“She didn’t hit particularly well in our preseason practices and really she came out (this weekend),” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I thought she cleared her mind and she knows she can hit the ball. She was just one-pitch focused.”
Starting all five games in center field, Hoogenraad again proved her ability at the plate and in the field. During Saturday’s game against Florida she robbed a grand slam with a catch over the wall. Against the Gators she went 2-for-3, with three runs and two runs batted-in. During Friday’s game against Georgia State, she totaled one run, contributing to the 6-1 victory.
Despite an overall stellar performance, her highs couldn’t come without their lows. Against Illinois State she went 0-for-3, only getting on base after a walk.
“They’re independent things,” Hoogenraad said. “You can only control the one pitch, and I think the biggest thing to focus on all the time is that how you have been doing or what you’ve been doing, doesn’t necessarily dictate what you’re going to do.”
Hoogenraad’s response to the ups and downs was echoed by the rest of the team. Playing five games over a span of three days could be challenging for some teams. Instead, Michigan capitalized on its initial momentum against Georgia State, its opening game of the season.
Michigan hasn’t won all five games of its opening weekend series since 2012. In a true team effort, the Wolverines’ success can be attributed to their commitment to staying level.
“I think our best quality was that we didn’t get too high and we don’t get too low,” Hutchins said. “We just slug away one pitch at a time. We were playing some of the best one-pitch softball I’ve seen in a while. We didn’t let our tough times hitting the ball get to us. It’s a great quality, it can make a great team really good.”
Hoogenrad’s hit came during a clutch moment in Michigan’s lows. Being able to rely on a player during the pitfalls to break through the wall and make big plays can be instrumental throughout the course of a season.
If Hoogenrad’s personal success this weekend is in any way indicative of her upcoming season, she’s going to be a player to watch out for. After graduating five starting seniors last year, Michigan is looking to fill the gaps in its lineup. With tremendous athleticism in the outfield coupled with a high batting average, she might be the senior leader the Wolverines are looking for.