By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published July 20, 2012
Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins will have to decide how to replace the reigning Big Ten player of the year, a four-year starter in the outfield and a defensive catalyst in the infield.
Her incoming freshman class will provide an easy solution.
Although the Wolverines have not formally announced their newest additions to the squad, six players have committed to play for Michigan for the 2013 season. Incoming freshmen Sierra Lawrence, Sierra Romero, Olivia Richvalsky, Kelsey Susalla, Alice Fitzpatirck and Lauren Connell compose a larger-than-usual freshman class that could see playing time immediately.
Lawrence and Romero — the two Sierras — will not only provide a handful of puns about the mountain range, but will strengthen a depleted infield that loses first baseman Amanda Chidester and third baseman Stephanie Kirkpatrick. The duo signed with the Wolverines during the early signing period in November 2011, and are the only two players to be given scholarships.
Lawrence, a product of Greater Atlanta Christian, hit .568 during her senior season and recorded a record-breaking .667 on-base percentage. The middle infielder also set records in hits (54), home runs (14), stolen bases (49), RBIs (38) and runs scored (67). Lawrence also led her team to a regional championship in 2011 and was named the 2011 Gwinnet County Player of the Year for her efforts.
Romero also brings another powerful bat after hitting a school record-breaking 25 home runs and batting .556 during her senior season while leading her team with 54 RBIs and 38 runs scored. The product of Vista Murrieta in California garnered All-American honors after her junior year and was named the 2011 Southwestern Player of the Year. Romero carries her career 45 home runs into Ann Arbor to compliment rising sophomore Sara Driesenga and rising senior Ashley Lane.
Richvalsky led the South Lyon East Cougars to one of their best records by leading the team offensively. The Division 2 All-State selection in Michigan batted .477 with 33 RBI, 33 runs and 28 stolen bases. The centerfielder and slap-hitter looks to replace former centerfielder Bree Evans both offensively and defensively.
Susalla, who was a pitcher in high school, will enter as a position player for the Wolverines after batting .620 on the year. Susalla was one of ten seniors from Garden City, Mich. that advanced to the State Semifinals in the spring. The two-time All-State selection went 18-4 with 134 strikeouts in 126 innings of work to total a 1.44 ERA.
Both Susalla and Richvalsky were members of the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association All-Star game on Wednesday. Richvalsky, though, was sidelined by shin splints, but expects to be ready for fall practice.
Fitzpatrick, who hails from Union Grove, Wisc., passed up a scholarship offer to pitch at the University of Illinois-Chicago to walk on as a Wolverine. Fitzpatrick carried a 0.92 ERA while going 12-1, including two perfect games and a no-hitter, during her junior year. The All-State selection led her team to a state championship her junior year and the sectional finals her senior year while accumulating a 16-4 record during her last year. Michigan graduated pitcher Hilary Payne as its fourth senior and the Wolverines could use Fitzpatrick as insurance for Driesenga and Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Rising sophomore Haley Wagner.
The West Lafayette native, Connell, is said to be able to play any position on the field. During her junior campaign, she switched to third base after playing catcher for a year. Connell, who hit .429 with 31 RBIs and 18 stolen bases during her junior campaign hit only .324 her senior year, but tallied eight home runs.
The incoming class will gain its first taste of college softball in the fall when they begin scrimmages.