- Sidney Krandall/Daily
By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published May 6, 2012
Just like Journey, the Michigan softball team won’t stop believing.
“To be our best, we need to believe,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “If you always believe you can win the game, you got to always believe in yourself and your teammates, (and) I thought this weekend we made a lot of great strides in believing in each other. I thought it was a great weekend for us.”
Despite Sunday’s game cancellation due to rain, that great weekend for Hutchins included a sweep of Wisconsin (12-8 Big Ten, 33-17 overall) — winning the doubleheader, 5-1, 7-5 — a grand slam, and a 4-for-5 performance from her senior star Amanda Chidester.
The 23rd-ranked Wolverines (15-5, 36-15) certainly needed the wins to stay atop the Big Ten standings after they dropped four of the past six games to mediocre conference opponents. With the two wins, Michigan now owns a two-and-a-half game lead on Iowa heading into the final Big Ten series against Purdue.
A lack of offensive production had plagued the Wolverines in their past series, but the squad had little trouble at the plate this weekend. Michigan tallied just five hits in the first contest, but bounced back the second game and put the ball in play 14 times.
The one hit that stood out for the Wolverines, though, came from junior second baseman Ashley Lane in the first game.
With an early 1-0 lead stemming from an RBI single from Chidester, Michigan loaded the bases with one out. Lane stepped up to the plate, prepared to work her at-bat and knock in a run or two. Recognizing the difference between Wisconsin sophomore pitcher Cassandra Darrah’s fastballs and change-ups, Lane patiently waited for the right pitch.
Then she ripped one out of the park.
Lane’s grand slam was the third of the season for the Wolverines, and the five-run third inning proved to be the game-winner for the team.
Though Hutchins was certainly pleased with Lane’s headlining effort, she knows it takes more than one player to produce results.
“We kept getting on base,” Hutchins said. “We put pressure on their pitching and pressure defensively and, of course, Ashley got the big hit by putting it over the fence.
“Our kids have been working hard and I give them credit for that. They had some ups and downs, but bottom line is hitting is a tough thing to do so you just got to work through the mental game with it and try to stay positive.”
Saturday’s second game featured much more offense, as Michigan connected bat with ball 14 times while its first three batters — senior center fielder Bree Evans, sophomore left-fielder Nicole Sappingfield and Chidester — contributed 10 of the 14 hits in the game.
The Wolverines got an early 2-0 lead in the first inning on an error and an RBI single from freshman designated player Haylie Wagner. The Badgers responded with a four-run third inning, but Michigan tallied a single run in both the fourth and fifth innings, and two more in the seventh to give the Wolverines the permanent lead.
And it’s not just Michigan’s offense that’s carrying the team.
In the circle, Wagner picked up her 26th and 27th wins of the season, completing the full seven innings in game one and pitching 4.2 innings in relief in the second game.
Wagner has been the ace for Michigan all season and currently leads the Big Ten in wins, ERA and runs allowed. Her stellar performance this weekend comes at no surprise, but Hutchins believes she can still improve.
“Haley has done a fantastic job for us and more than anything we want her to trust (pitching coach Jennifer Brundadge) and the pitch calls,” Hutchins said. “Trust herself, do the best she can (and) not put more on herself than she already does.”
With both the offense and pitching finally in sync, the Wolverines will head into the final week of the regular season on a high.
“For us to have success we need everybody to do their part,” Hutchins said. “We need the offense to produce some runs, we need our defense to pick the ball up and if we can get people doing their part like you saw yesterday, we can see good results.”
But for now, Hutchins just wants the team to believe.