Pitchers struggle early throughout weekend series

James Coller/Daily
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By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 24, 2014

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins didn’t have very many complaints this weekend after her team overwhelmed Indiana in three mercy-rule victories.

But like all experienced coaches, she found an area of improvement, expressing concern over the sixth-ranked Wolverines’ sluggish starts — particularly in the very first inning.

“I didn’t like our first inning either game,” Hutchins said after Friday’s doubleheader. “We got in trouble in the first inning in game one. We got in trouble right off of the bat in game two. I didn’t like that at all.”

In the first half of the doubleheader, Indiana’s leadoff hitter, Breanna Saucedo, singled up the middle off of junior southpaw Haylie Wagner. The next Hoosier up to bat, Brianna Meyer, laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Saucedo advanced to second. The following hitter, Jenna Abraham, reached on a single.

Wagner finally struck one out after she settled in and escaped the first inning unscathed after a ground out to second.

Hutchins wasn’t surprised by Wagner’s slow start, despite the junior being named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week twice already this season.

“Playing at home has always historically been difficult the first time out, because the kids are just over-amped to be on Alumni Field,” Hutchins said.

After the Wolverines settled down, though, they collected eight runs in the next six innings to end the game in a mercy rule.

In the back end of the doubleheader, the Hoosiers started off quickly again in the first inning. Junior right-hander Sara Driesenga allowed a single and hit a batter to put two on. Her infield and outfield protected her from allowing any runs, with freshman second baseman Abby Ramirez fielding a grounder and senior center fielder Lynday Doyle catching a fly ball.

Once again, Hutchins blamed the slow start on nerves.

“She just needs to relax,” Hutchins said of Driesenga.

Sunday, freshman right-hander Megan Betsa walked Saucedo during the top of the first. Betsa struck out the next hitter, but then Abraham reached on a fielding error by freshman third baseman Lindsay Montemarano. The next batter was walked, and then Hoosier Natalie Lalich struck one up the center. All of a sudden, the Wolverines were down 2-0 to a team they had mercied twice the day before.

The problem was that the Wolverines gave Indiana three free bases early — two by walk, one by error. The Hoosiers got the hit they needed, giving them a quick lead.

“Megan did not come out with the game she had in the bullpen,” Hutchins said. “I know she’s frustrated. She doesn’t know why her bullpen isn’t carrying over. She’s not throwing with confidence.”

Wagner was put in for Betsa after the freshman allowed a homer to left field in the second. Once again, Michigan had to adjust following an uncharacteristic start, and they did. The Hoosiers allowed 12 runs over the next five innings and were subject to the mercy rule for the final time that weekend.

“I’ve seen (the nerves) in other games as well,” Hutchins said. “It’s most important that you finish strong, but you like your pitching to come out and settle in and sometimes it’s tough. This was everybody’s first game on Alumni Field and Megan Betsa’s first game ever (at home).”

The Wolverines will be able to work on their start again when they face Bowling Green Tuesday at Alumni Field. The game was postponed on March 18 due to poor field conditions, and pending a game-time weather decision, Michigan will play at 4 p.m.