Softball tries to gain routine, consistency amid weather tendency

James Coller/Daily
Buy this photo

By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 25, 2014

Ideally, the Michigan softball team would have gotten in another home game Tuesday for an extra chance to establish a routine for playing outside and on its new field.

Instead, the game was canceled. Again.

“We’re shooting for championship performance — what it’s going to take to get to our destination,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins on Saturday. “I don’t think we’re there yet. The offense isn’t always going to be able to score 12 runs in a game.”

The Wolverines’ game against Bowling Green was originally scheduled for last Tuesday, but weather postponed it to this Tuesday. After a three-game home series against Indiana this past weekend, weather postponed the game again.

This week, Michigan (22-6) stayed at No. 6 in the poll, accompanied in the top 10 by four Pac-12 teams, four SEC teams and Florida State. The Wolverines sit there despite holding practice outdoors in Ann Arbor for the first time last week and only playing outside on weekends in warmer areas.

But this weekend, Michigan didn’t miss a beat, committing just two errors while playing on the new Alumni Field turf for the first time.

That defense has been a sign of consistency after being a relative weakness last season. The Wolverines’ team fielding percentage is higher this year through 28 games than last year’s. Almost all of the full-time starters — including sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero, senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard, junior catcher Lauren Sweet and senior outfielders Lyndsay Doyle and Nicole Sappingfield — have higher fielding percentages this year.

Romero had a standout freshman season at the plate, but her defense has taken a step up this year. Friday night, she snagged a grounder in the hole and threw out the runner by a step.

Additionally, freshman infielders Lindsay Montemarano and Abby Ramirez have stepped in and started a combined 54 games. Ramirez has a perfect fielding percentage, while Montemarano is at .943 at third base.

“In the beginning of the season, I was really working on my hitting, so I knew that I had to be 100 percent if my bat wasn’t great,” Montemarano said. “If you can make a great play and help the pitcher out or stop the ball any way you can, make the plays, it’s going to help the team at bat and give the team confidence.

“I really pride myself on defense and want to be good. The pitchers are working hard, so I have to work hard, too.”

The weather, combined with the new routine of playing at home and the excitement of a home opener, makes an undefeated weekend with three run-rule victories a strong start.

“To some degree, you can understand that there are some jitters that go with that,” Hutchins said. “Playing at home has always historically been difficult the first time because the kids are just over-amped to be on Alumni Field.”

The Wolverines still lack a true routine, especially after the cancellation Tuesday. After five long road trips, the team now plays weekend Big Ten series for the rest of the season.

In the non-conference schedule, the team would fly in the day before the game and play four or five games in two or three days, sometimes one right after another. Now, the pregame routine starts three hours before game time with more time to prepare.

Part of that routine is getting used to playing on Alumni Field, which this year includes a turf outfield. The two errors this weekend came on a throw from third and a play at first, but the Wolverines have rarely gotten the opportunity to play on dirt.

Doyle, Sappingfield and sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence were perfect on the new outfield turf. And the offense didn’t miss a beat from the week before, racking up 29 runs in three shortened games.

“It’s like the new normal,” Hutchins said. “Pregame meal, and so forth. The kids are obviously very excited to play at home, and I think our offense really showed up. I think they really picked our pitching up. Our pitching was not very sharp all day today.”

The weather and the switch to conference season continue to be issues, but Hutchins refuses to use them as excuses.

“It is harder in this weather,” Hutchins said. “Everything’s harder in this weather.”