Softball dominates All-Big Ten teams; Romero Player of the Year

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By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 7, 2014

The Michigan softball team has dominated the Big Ten on the field over the past seven years, winning at least a share of the conference title each year.

So it’s no surprise that the Wolverines continue to rake in the hardware as well.

The Big Ten announced its All-Conference teams Wednesday, including Michigan sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero as Player of the Year for the second straight year. Romero was one of seven Wolverines on one the first or second team, while senior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield and freshman second baseman Abby Ramirez made the All-Defensive Team.

Despite seeing far fewer strikes than last year, Romero continued her strong play throughout the conference season to become Michigan’s sixth straight Player of the Year and second straight back-to-back winner. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said she improved most on defense this year, showing range at shortstop with a .930 fielding percentage.

She also hit .511, tops in the Big Ten by almost 100 points, with 15 home runs and 60 RBI. Her on-base percentage (.641) and slugging percentage (.927) also led the conference.

Romero played in all 51 games and started 50 in the No. 3 spot in the order. Though opponents often pitched around her to the tune of 52 walks, her protection from senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard, sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence and senior designated player Taylor Hasselbach helped keep her a force in the lineup.

Senior outfielders Lyndsay Doyle — a unanimous selection — and Sappingfield joined Romero on the first team as Michigan’s table setters. The two slap-hitters hit .388 and .405, respectively, and together started every game but one. Their ability to reach base meant Romero was often hitting with runners on.

The All-Big Ten second team also featured four Wolverines — Hasselbach, junior catcher Lauren Sweet, junior left-hander Haylie Wagner and freshman right-hander Megan Betsa — which along with the first team totaled almost two-thirds of the team’s regular starters being honored.

Despite slumping late in the year, Wagner finished 20-2 with a 1.51 earned-run average. Until the Minnesota series April 18, she served as the team’s ace and Friday night starter. Going into that weekend, she was 19-0 with a 0.95 ERA.

Betsa, meanwhile, worked out some issues early in the season and became the most reliable starter in the final two weekends. She followed each of Michigan’s last three losses — besides the season finale — with a win, finishing 7-0 with a 1.92 ERA in the Big Ten.

Hasselbach emerged as the Wolverines’ second-best power hitter behind Romero and hit eight home runs. Junior catcher Lauren Sweet started 46 games behind the plate and went deep six times.

Elsewhere, Nebraska landed three players on each team. Only last-place Michigan State did not have a player on either team. Minnesota freshman Sara Groenewegen was the Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, while Nebraska’s Rhonda Revelle earned Coach of the Year honors, the first time since 2010 that Hutchins did not win the award.

One of Michigan’s greatest strengths earlier in the season was scoring in bunches, which it did using a deep lineup top to bottom. Whether that carries over to this weekend’s Big Ten Tournament in Evanston remains to be seen, but the Wolverines have shown they have the talent to win it.