Softball looks to get into offensive groove in Lakewood

Terra Molengraff/Daily
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By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 27, 2014

The Michigan softball team will be starting the Louisville Slugger Invitational this Friday riding a streak of four consecutive shutouts. And though the defense has clearly been doing its job, the Wolverines are still struggling to find offensive success.

No. 6 Michigan’s pitching staff has kept the opposition locked down recently, and its had to — the Wolverines have been held to just two runs in the past two games.

“I believe our offense will come around,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Offense comes and goes and it’s very contagious and we have the ability to be a good offensive team. We’ve got to find a way to get into a groove and just really start swinging the way we’re capable of.”

Nicole Sappingfield also voiced that the Wolverines’ recent quiet performances on offense will need to improve, by being more aggressive and trusting their training, in order to keep up with the competition. The senior outfielder and co-captain has noticed that when the leaders on the team are more vocal, the team responds with just as much energy.

The offense is still learning to stay self-assured, but the pitchers have no reason to change their ways. They’ve thrown 32 consecutive scoreless innings. Still, Hutchins is in no rush to find a number one, two or three pitcher.

“Our job is to just put (the pitchers) together and hold the opponents down and we have the ability to do that when you have three pitchers that are pretty quality,” Hutchins said.

Michigan (12-2) will take on Nevada, UCLA, Utah Valley, Long Beach State and Oregon State over the course of the weekend and will be looking to ruin No. 5 UCLA’s perfect record of 16-0.

More important than anything else, Hutchins added, is that the girls learn to trust one another.

“The defense has to have confidence in their pitcher; the pitcher has to have confidence in her defense,” Hutchins said. “It’s a game of confidence, no question.”

As the Wolverines delve into their fourth tournament of the season, the main focus of the team seems to be to stay positive at the plate. If Michigan can learn to rely on their preparation, Hutchins believes the offense will be unstoppable.

But with a chance to break from the normal grind of a long season, some players will get a chance to forget about the pressure and return home.

Sappingfield, along with junior catcher Lauren Sweet, junior left-handed pitcher Haylie Wagner and sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero, are all California natives.

“I promised to bring them home to play in front of their friends and family,” Hutchins said. “There’s no question that there’s an air of excitement because the Cali kids are excited to go and play in front of their people.”

Added Sappingfield: “I think it’s always exciting to play the good competition and get out under that California sky.”

The Wolverines will be staying in California for the next nine days, playing 11 games in total over spring break including another contest against UCLA on Wednesday.

“It’s a great time to bond,” Hutchins said. “We spend nine days together, 24/7, and it’s really a lot of fun.”