Softball to kick off season at USF Tournament

Terra Molengraff/Daily
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By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 6, 2014

The No. 5 Michigan softball team has been sporting blue bracelets with the phrase “Team 37” printed on the outside and the hashtag “Relentless” inscribed on the inside throughout the past few weeks to remind itself to stay motivated.

The Wolverines hope to prove that they are just as “Relentless” as their wrists say they are this weekend at the USF Tournament in Tampa, Fla.

“(It’s) a good word for our team,” said junior pitcher Sara Driesenga. “Last year, too, I said coming in it’s a whole new year and (we’ll) never be satisfied.”

Michigan will need to be relentless early this weekend, considering that its season starts off with a split doubleheader against No. 4 Florida and No. 25 South Florida on Saturday. On Sunday, the Wolverines take on Illinois State in the morning followed by a game against Bethune-Cookman in the afternoon.

Although Michigan is slated against tough opponents for its first games of the season, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins is approaching the games like she always does.

“Every test is tough,” Hutchins said. “Our biggest opponent is always us. We need to worry about what we do.”

The Wolverines, who are returning six starting position players, have a favorable balance of experience and youth. Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and will back up an offense boosted by three returning All-Big Ten First Team selections: senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard, sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence and junior catcher Lauren Sweet.

Anchoring Michigan’s offense will be junior pitcher Haylie Wagner and All-Big Ten first team pitcher Driesenga, who, when combined, accounted for 50 of the Wolverines’ 51 wins last season. Freshman pitcher Megan Betsa – a two-time Georgia State Player and Pitcher of the Year in high school – will add an extra layer of depth to the already well-accomplished group.

“We’re definitely a pitching staff, which is a huge advantage for us,” Driesenga said. “We’re all here to work with each other and we’re going to complement each other.”

Added Hutchins: “I’ve got three pitchers that are capable. They’re all going to get pitching time.”

Betsa isn’t the only new addition expected to make a contribution, though. Freshman infielder Abby Ramirez, outfielder Kelly Christner and infielder Lindsay Montemarano will also be counted on to provide depth.

“I expect (the freshmen) all to come in and hopefully make an impact on Saturday,” Hutchins said. “We’re working them all.”

Though Michigan softball is coming off of a successful 2013 season that included a trip to the College World Series, one thing is for certain: Hutchins knows that last year has no bearing on the upcoming season.

“You start at zero,” Hutchins said. “Nobody has a win or a loss. The rankings don’t mean anything until June. That’s the only time rankings matter, is when you’re done. … The game doesn’t know if you’re ranked, the game doesn’t know if you’re a freshman or a senior, the game knows if we play well or if we don’t.”