Romero earns Freshman and Player of the Year, seven Wolverines earn conference honors

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By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 8, 2013

On Wednesday, seven members of the Michigan softball team proved they do more than just win games — they win awards.

As she has done in so many games this year, freshman shortstop Sierra Romero knocked the competition out of the park, earning both Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors.

Romero is just the second freshman to win both awards, joining Michigan’s Sara Griffin who earned the distinction in 1995. Romero follows in the footsteps of former Michigan first baseman Amanda Chidester, who won Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012.

The Murrieta, Calif. native has been hailed by Michigan coach Carol Hutchins since she stepped onto campus in August, even drawing comparisons to Detroit Tigers slugger Prince Fielder.

“She has the quickest hands I’ve ever seen,” Hutchins said. “If you watched her in the fall, you would have known it there. She has a tremendous presence both in our offensive lineup and on the field.”

And Romero has the power numbers to prove both her coach, and the voters, correct.

Romero finished the regular season batting .397 with a slugging percentage of .897 and a program-record 22 home runs. During conference play, the shortstop strung together a 14-game hitting streak. An additional 42 walks put Romero on base in each conference game, earning her a staggering .534 on-base percentage. Her 62 hits is tied with junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard and senior second baseman Ashley Lane for the team lead — a lethal combination at the heart of the Michigan batting order — and contributed a team-leading 66 RBI.

“It’s great how we’ve kept it going one after another,” Romero said. “We’re very contagious. It can be good and it can’t be bad, but lately it’s been working for us and we’re rolling with it. It’s been fun.”

Lane and Blanchard were two of six Wolverines named to the first-team All-Big Ten team.

Blanchard’s hot midseason hitting made her the natural fit behind Romero in the lineup, while her .981 fielding percentage at first base kept her from playing her original position, catcher, all season. The junior led the league with 33 hits in conference play, while batting .452 with three home runs — including a grand slam — and 26 RBI.

“I relish hitting in any opportunity, and it’s great if you want to put one more runner on,” Blanchard said. “We have a saying in the dugout that’s pretty simple: ’Walks are good.’ Even if it’s Sierra getting intentionally walked, that’s one more base runner for our team so of course we’re going to take that.”

Behind Blanchard in the cleanup spot, Lane batted .411 in conference play with seven home runs and 28 RBI. She slugged .740 and also stole three bases. She finished tied for second in the league with seven home runs and third in both RBI and hits (30).

Sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet rounded out the infield selections thanks to an offensive surge in conference play. Despite hitting just .079 through the first half of the season – her first hit didn’t come until the final week of non-conference play — Sweet batted just shy of .500 through 22 Big Ten games.

Whereas sophomore pitcher Haley Wagner — who was chosen second-team All-Big Ten — stole the show last year, sophomore right-hander Sara Driesenga represents the Wolverines’ pitching with first-team honors this season. An early-season injury to Wagner allowed Driesenga to step up as Michigan’s ace, a role in which she performed admirably. The Hudsonville, Mich. native struck out 68 batters in 63 innings and boasted a 2.65 ERA with a 9-1 record.

Freshman left fielder Sierra Lawrence joins Romero as the only two freshmen to make the first team. She started all 22 Big Ten games in left field and batted .429 with seven doubles and four home runs to compile a .730 slugging percentage. She knocked in 22 runs and stole three bases, and remained perfect in the field with a 1.000 fielding percentage.

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins — who won her 1,300th game earlier this season — was awarded her third-consecutive Coach of the Year honor, as voted on by her fellow coaches in the Big Ten.

“Obviously, it shows I’ve been here a long time and I'm really lucky that way,” Hutchins said. “You don’t see many people have that. It means we’ve had good players and good staff. We've had a lot of good players come through here and certainly my assistants make all the difference in the world.”