By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 22, 2014
Experience will battle youth on Wednesday in West Lafayette, as first-year Purdue softball coach Kim Schuette takes on Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, who is in her 30th year with the Wolverines.
Though she’s less experienced than other coaches, Schuette has made tremendous strides with the Boilermakers over the past year. Purdue (11-4 Big Ten, 24-21-1 overall) is currently tied with Nebraska for second in the conference. Last year, however, Purdue finished third-worst in the Big Ten with an 8-15 record.
The Boilermakers performed well early this season against ranked teams, defeating then-No. 10 Texas in their third game of the season, and then followed the win up with a tie against Louisiana-Lafayette, a team currently ranked No. 17. Purdue has lost its other six games against ranked teams, however, and has rolled through an easy Big Ten schedule thus far.
The Boilermakers have yet to face any of the six best teams in the Big Ten, and now they have to face the No. 4 team in the nation in a doubleheader.
Schuette’s team could be in for a rude awakening against the conference’s top program, the likes of which the first-year coach’s team has struggled with so far. The Wolverines have cooled off hot teams such as Ohio State and Minnesota in the past three weeks and have the opportunity to do so again.
Purdue hasn’t beaten Michigan since 2006, and it’s unlikely that this will be the year the Boilermakers snap the 16-game losing streak. Michigan’s combined batting average is .356, good enough to lead the country, and sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero holds the individual top spot for batting average with .514, but that’s not all. The Wolverines also have a team earned-run average of 1.47, good for first in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines suffered their first loss since March 7 against Minnesota last weekend at the hands of senior pitcher Sara Moulton, the second-ranked pitcher in the Big Ten, but Michigan won’t have to face any standout pitchers from Purdue. Sophomore left-hander Lilly Fecho leads her team with an ERA of 2.41 and an 18-10 record, while the other pitchers have barely seen game action.
But the Wolverines will need to worry about at least one person: outfielder Andie Varsho.
Varsho is second in the Big Ten behind Romero with a batting average of .448 and ranks first in hits. She is quick, as well, stealing three bases against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on March 2, a difficult feat no matter who the opponent is.
If Michigan struggles to hit as it did last weekend against Minnesota, then Varsho, or any of Purdue’s other five batters with averages above .250, have a shot at winning a game for the Boilermakers.
“The story of the game is, no matter what, (Wagner) didn’t have her best game, but we didn’t score any runs, which is unusual for us,” Hutchins said last weekend after a 1-0 Minnesota defeat.
Added Hutchins after the third game of the Minnesota series: “The problem wasn’t that (Betsa) gave up a home run, the problem was that we had only gotten one home run.”
As long as the Wolverines are able to keep in mind that hesitance and caution don’t score runs at the plate, Michigan should easily be able to collect two more conference wins.
“If anything, (the Minnesota series) gave us confidence in our ability to fight,” said senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard on Sunday. “The fact that that first game we were knocked down shows that we can come out swinging and play against anybody.”