Twelve games into its season, the No. 25 Michigan softball team is ranked second in the country in ERA, an impressive feat. Their batting average and on-base percentage on the other hand are ranked 112th and 138th in the country, respectively.
That’s a pretty wide gap, and it costed them games early in the season.
Last weekend, the Wolverines showed some signs of improvement offensively, most notably with an 8-0 mercy rule win over Wisconsin in five innings on Saturday. But they also showed signs of stagnation while scoring three runs or less in four of the weekend’s six games. They won all four of those games, though, a testament to the stellar pitching and defensive performances that have carried the team thus far.
“I do believe that just as not-hitting is contagious, hitting is contagious,” associate head coach Bonnie Tholl said. “And so I think we saw the breakthrough on Saturday against Wisconsin. And all of a sudden, offense, swinging the bat, became much easier for our group. And I think that the more we do it, the easier it will become and (the) more contagious the success at the batter’s box will become.”
Michigan knows it needs that portion of their game to round into form if they want to compete. They’ve already seen a lack of offense cost them a pair of 2-1 defeats at the hands of Illinois on the opening weekend. They’ve tried to remedy this in practice with what Tholl describes as, “grinding on the mechanics and fundamentals of hitting,” and this hasn’t been overlooked by members of the team.
“It’s just really been a grind, (the batters) have all been very focused on just getting a little bit more, just keep working, keep going at it,” junior right-hander Alex Storako said. “So just that keep-working mentality. And I think that has really kind of flourished in the last two weekends where it’s just like, ‘Okay, we gotta keep going, we’re not there yet let’s take it a step further and let’s get a little bit better.’ And so over time I think that they’ve made improvements for sure, and I think it really shows.”
The Wolverines will just have to hope that it starts paying dividends soon.
Michigan has also worked on having short memories and moving forward, even in the face of lackluster performances. Take them bouncing back from the team’s lone loss this weekend — a 5-4, eight-inning loss at the hands of Nebraska — with the mercy rule win over the Badgers. They stressed that this philosophy can also be applied directly to the offensive side of the game.
The lone bright spot that has consistently shined throughout the season for the Wolverines has been junior outfielder Lexie Blair. Though coming into the season, this wasn’t necessarily a given.
Last year, Blair struggled following up her impressive freshman season at first, citing the fact that she was getting in her head too much — batting 0.406 and 0.307 in her freshman and sophomore years respectively. However, she came into form near the end of the shortened 2020 season once she regained her mental composure. And has continued that run into this season, where she’s batting 0.475.
This is something that Tholl thinks everyone on the team needs to do in order to get out of a team-wide rut similar to Blair’s.
“Just as we asked our pitchers to take each portion of the game pitch to pitch,” Tholl said. “We asked our hitters to do the same thing, to leave your defense, whether you had success or mistakes out on defense, out on the field when you come into hit. Or leave your poor at-bat in the dugout when it’s time to go back out on defense.
“ … If we can really compartmentalize that and do a better job with that, I think that that really enables you to perform at a higher level.”