By Tyler Scott, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 17, 2015
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins won’t entertain any thoughts about her team stacks up against the rest of the NCAA tournament field. But in the past two weeks of postseason play, the Michigan softball team is hitting the life out of the ball, and any team they play.
“I don't worry about (the other team),” Hutchins said after Saturday’s semifinal win. “I worry about my team and what we do. We just kind of play our game and worry about us.”
At the time, the Wolverines had no idea they would be facing Pittsburgh. The Panthers came back against California late Saturday evening to earn a shot in the regional final.
Without much time to form a game plan, Michigan's bats were alive and popping. Junior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence started the first inning with a double. In the first inning alone the Wolverines plated four runs and knocked Pittsburgh right-hander Savannah King out of the game before they even recorded their first out.
“I was hoping we'd come out and attack” Hutchins said. “(Lawrence) started the whole thing. A five-run first inning, that's a big deal, it puts opponents on their heels.”
They’ll even hit twice if they have too. After an apparent two RBI third-inning triple by sophomore shortstop Abby Ramirez was called back and ruled foul, she simply made contact with the next pitch and reached first on a fielding error.
Lawrence cleared the bases with a double in the very next at-bat.
Michigan just puts the ball in play and leaves it to the Panthers, or whoever, to respond. So far nobody has had an answer.
Maybe looking at the opponent is a fruitless effort after all. Michigan has faced six different opponents since the end of the regular season – spanning across the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments – and beaten them all by a combined score of 59-9.
Just making contact at the plate is an axiom of the team. Force the other team to make a play. Keep sending the ball into the field of play and eventually, the hits will fall.
The Wolverines recorded several successful bunts throughout regional weekend as well, only further detailing the myriad ways in which Hutchins’ strategy can turn at-bats into runs on the scoreboard.
It doesn’t hurt the Wolverines that senior left-hander Haylie Wagner and sophomore right-hander Megan Betsa have been machinists on the mound either. They fine tune some adjustments here and there, but have otherwise commanded the plate, keeping the other team quiet so Michigan's offense can do the talking.
In regional action, the duo combined to pitch 12 innings, giving up just four hits and two runs collectively heading into the final game against Pittsburgh.
But the Panthers hit up Wagner for three runs and five hits in just two and one third innings pitched. Pittsburgh’s effort was far more productive than anyone else has been against Michigan in weeks, and was good enough to remove Wagner from the game.
Even so, Pittsburgh didn’t have enough gas to regain the ground they lost in the early innings. They were outgunned.
Everyone in the Michigan batting order kept swinging away and helped build a 10-run, 10-hit victory. The seven through nine batters combined for five hits on the day.
“You love to have the bottom of the order contribute,” Hutchins said. “We're not just one through four (in the lineup). I think one of our greatest qualities is that we're one through nine.”
Even when runs weren’t scoring, the Panthers defense still didn’t exactly have it easy. Only three Wolverines struck out, forcing Pittsburgh to chase balls around alumni field all day long.
If Michigan continues to put the ball in play, it won’t matter who the next challenger in line is.