On softball: Michigan doesn’t care about your win streak

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By Justin Meyer , Daily Sports Writer
Published April 6, 2014

On one side of Alumni Field, thousands of fans wearing maize and blue poured out of exits and into Oosterbaan Field House for a chance to meet players and coaches.

Just around the corner and out of sight, the Ohio State softball team slinked over to hug family and friends. There were no tears. A few hanging heads. Still, if you missed every play, it was clear the Buckeyes had lost the game.

It’s a feeling that Ohio State coach and former Michigan All-American pitcher Kelly Schoenly is familiar with.

“Each year I love seeing (Michigan), but I would love to beat them,” Schoenly said. “We used to beat them more when I was at Penn State, and I want to get that back, so that they’re worried when we come to town. I think they had a little taste of that on Friday, and I want to continue that.”

One of the quirks of Big Ten softball is that the weather necessitates a short season. That means it isn’t possible for every team to play each other, and Ohio State (5-4 Big Ten, 17-18 overall) drew an unfortunate three-game series against the strongest team in the conference.

No. 20 Nebraska, a team that won’t play Michigan (9-0, 29-6) this year, used the weekend to climb into a tie with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten standings.

It’s a devastating blow that the Wolverines figure to deal out at least a few more times this season.

For No. 5 Michigan, the story of the weekend series against Ohio State was lockdown defense that carried the team to a three-game sweep despite bouts of tentative hitting.

The story for Ohio State, though, was a bit more sobering. The Buckeyes, who were 5-1 in conference play before heading to Ann Arbor, left town with three more losses and little sense of direction.

Ohio State gave the Wolverines hell from the field for the first 10 innings of the series. Buckeyes ace Olivia O’Reilly held Michigan to just five hits and one run in the first game, and had a no-hitter going until the bottom of the fourth in the next game on Sunday.

But the only remaining undefeated team in the conference looks nearly unbeatable, especially when junior pitcher Haylie Wagner is in the circle.

That dominance on the field is partly a result of the Wolverines’ uncanny ability to disrupt opponents’ momentum. Credit it to Michigan coach Carol Hutchins’ borderline obsession with “one-pitch softball,” the team’s explosive power at the plate or its unwavering focus in the field — the reason doesn’t matter.

What’s clear is that beating this Michigan team will take a Herculean effort.

Hutchins said after the game that the goal is to have a team that is among the best nationally from the circle, in the field and at the plate. Pitching issues have already begun to fade amid better performances from junior Sara Driesenga and huge improvements from freshman Megan Betsa.

Concerns about a dry spell at the plate also disappeared when Michigan poured in 20 runs after a slow start in Sunday’s double-header games.

In the end, Michigan was just too much for Ohio State, and both Schoenly and Hutchins knew it. The Buckeyes held the offense in check as long as they could, but the Wolverines’ defense was impenetrable.

The way both teams fought through the weekend is a testament to the culture Hutchins has brought to the clubhouse long before Schoenly was her star at Michigan. To Hutchins, who picked up her 500th Big Ten win Sunday, the biggest compliment is perhaps seeing her intensity and passion for the game develop in her own players.

“I’m always really proud of my former athletes regardless of what they choose to do,” Hutchins said. “Most of them leave here and make us proud, especially because they choose to coach — which is, of course, what I chose to do. I don’t try to get caught up in it during the game … but all my kids are special.”

We found out this weekend, though, that Schoenly and the Buckeyes weren’t quite special enough to pull off the upset. Few are.