- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Nate Sell, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 22, 2013
The Michigan softball team has been untouchable in the Big Ten, and with a perfect 16-0 conference record thus far, it’s in great position to grab the program’s sixth straight conference championship title.
The Wolverines are currently the best offensive team in the Big Ten, leading the conference with a .349 batting average, a .538 slugging percentage and a .434 on-base percentage. They are also leading the Big Ten in nearly every other offensive category, including runs, hits, RBI, triples, home runs, total bases and walks. The pitching has backed the offense up, averaging almost one strikeout per inning.
Tuesday, No. 9 Michigan (16-0 Big Ten, 39-7 overall) will take a break from dominating conference play to face Central Michigan (11-3 Mid-American Conference, 25-13) at Alumni Field. The Chippewas are coming off a heartbreaking 3-2 extra-inning loss to Toledo on Sunday, a loss that snapped a seven-game winning streak in which Central Michigan outscored conference opponents, 39-15, to climb into second place in the MAC.
The Chippewas are efficient offensively and don’t leave many runners on base. Coupled with a strategy that includes aggressive base stealing makes them a hard team to play against. A key to Toledo’s win Sunday was catching Central Michigan in unlucky double plays and picking off its runners, so for Michigan to have success, its infield will have to display the same discipline against crafty baserunners.
Offensively, the Wolverines can steal bases, too, especially senior second baseman Ashley Lane, who is 7-for-8 in steal attempts. In addition to base running, Michigan will count on freshmen Sierra Romero and Sierra Lawrence to drive in runs. Lawrence claimed her first Big Ten Freshman on the Week award after batting .462 while having a hit and a RBI in each of Michigan’s four conference games. On Sunday, she hit her first-career grand slam against Iowa and tied her career-best with four RBI. Fellow classmate Romero has already received six weekly rookie awards this season, prompting teams to pitch around her. She has gotten on base each of the last 25 games, and has already hit 19 home runs.
Behind the offensive firepower is a strong pitching rotation consisting of sophomores Sara Driesenga and Haylie Wagner. Over the weekend, Driesenga struck out six batters on her way to her fifth shutout of the season. Meanwhile, Wagner won her 15th game behind five strikeouts and zero walks.
When these teams met last year, the Wolverines earned a run-rule victory after six innings. The Chippewas were the first to score, but Michigan put up nine runs in the sixth inning and eventually won the game, 10-2. Explosive innings like that have become common for the Wolverines, who’ve picked up 15 mercy-rule decisions this year. If their bats get hot, they could add another and extend their winning streak to 22.
Their current 21-game win streak is the longest in the nation and their 16-straight conference wins make up the best streak since 2009, when they won 17 in a row. To make things even harder for Central Michigan, the game is in Ann Arbor, where Michigan is undefeated on the year.