- Sidney Krandall/Daily
By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 25, 2012
The No. 22 Michigan softball team salvaged last weekend’s three-game series against Minnesota by winning 5-3 in ten innings on Sunday. With the 1-2 result, the Wolverines (12-3 Big Ten, 32-13 overall) are now just a game ahead of Wisconsin (11-4, 27-13) in the conference standings.
The Badgers are coming off a three-game sweep of Penn State, in which they only allowed one run in the entire series.
While media and fans may notice the one-game lead in the standings — the thought is far away from the players’ minds.
“That never comes up in anything,” said junior shortstop Amy Knapp.
Due to the Wolverines’ performance over the weekend, the team dropped to No. 22 in the national rankings. After starting the season ranked 15th, and later on rising to 11th, Michigan has remained at No. 20 for most of the Big Ten season.
Despite this movement, the Wolverines have their eyes focused on the larger picture.
“We don’t focus on ranking, we focus at where we’re at the end of (the season),” Knapp said.
Michigan and Wisconsin will play a three-game series in Madison next weekend. At the moment, the outcome of that series may produce the Big Ten champion.
HOME SWEET HOME: After a 2-2 roadtrip, the Wolverines will return home to play a four-game homestand against Illinois and Eastern Michigan.
Since concluding nonconference tournament play at opposing teams’ stadiums — the games are considered neutral — Michigan has played 23 games against Mid-American Conference and Big Ten teams.
Fifteen of those games have been road affairs, while only eight have been at home.
Though, the Wolverines hold a respectable 10-5 road record, they favor playing at home — where they are 7-1.
“We love being at home,” said senior center-fielder Bree Evans. “We feed off our fans.”
An extra bonus for having a home series this weekend is that the team will not have to travel during the hectic period at the end of the semester — finals week.
“All the girls are excited about it,” Evans said.
Michigan will somewhat make up for its disproportional schedule by playing seven of its last 10 games of the regular season at home.
With six of those games against Big Ten foes, the Wolverines will look to continue what they have done in their previous five conference home games — win.
“Our goal is to win every game,” Evans said.
And to do that, Michigan has a certain strategy.
“We’re going to keep playing one pitch, one game,” Evans said.
ON THE OFFENSE:As the Wolverines’ offense performs well, the team wins. When they don’t, the team loses.
It’s a simple equation.
What isn’t as simple is finding a way to fix Michigan’s offensive woes.
While the Wolverines lead the Big Ten with a 1.84 team ERA, they have been middle of the road at best in many offensive categories.
For instance, Michigan ranks sixth in the conference in batting average (.289), seventh in runs scored (214), and eighth in runs batted in (185).
It’s no wonder given these statistics that Michigan coach Carol Hutchins played around with her lineup last weekend against Minnesota.
In all three games, Hutchins placed sophomore left-fielder Nicole Sappingfield in the second spot in the lineup while placing sophomore right fielder Lindsay Doyle lower in the lineup.
“We change the lineup a lot, and Nicole (Sappingfield) is who we think will help us win,” Hutchins said. “Sappingfield’s been hot.”
Hutchins has also been using her designated player position recently to bat for senior shortshop Stephanie Kirkpatrick, who is hitting .225 for the season.
In her place, Hutchins has been using her two freshman hurlers — Haylie Wagner and Sara Driesenga.
While hesitant at the beginning of the season to allow Wagner to hit, Hutchins has been more willing recently.
Her willingness paid off on Sunday, when Wagner drove in the game-winning run in the 10th inning on a solo home run.
“You can look at our stats over the last 10-15 games,” Hutchins said. “We’re just trying to make changes that might give us a boost.”