The nine-hole in the lineup often presents a dilemma for baseball and softball coaches, including Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. Traditionally, it’s saved for the weakest hitter in the lineup — often times times the pitcher — allowing the coach to stack the first eight spots with more effective hitters.

But MLB manager Tony La Russa was the first to take a different route. He famously shook up his St. Louis Cardinals lineup in 1998 by batting his pitcher in the eighth spot and replacing the ninth with the speedy Willie McGee. This created a double-leadoff hitter scenario in which the bottom of the lineup flowed smoothly back into the top where the scrappy Delino DeShields led off.

Although fans will forever attribute the Cards’ 1998 season improvements to Mark McGuire’s 70 home runs, La Russa believes his managerial switch made a significant difference.

And Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins has appeared to take a page out of La Russa’s book by batting senior center fielder Molly Bausher last in the lineup.

“She’s making our offense tick from that nine-hole.” Hutchins said. “She’s really gotten in a groove, and it will really help our team down the road if she can keep doing what she’s doing.”

And early season trends for the fifth-ranked Wolverines (14-4) tend to reflect nothing less — offensive success has been far more likely when Bausher sets the table for the top of the order effectively.

In the team’s four losses this season, Bausher has mustered just one hit in 11 opportunities. But she’s hitting an impressive .333 over Michigan’s 14 victories. And the team has won by a margin of at least seven runs in each of her multi-hit efforts.

Bausher’s production may seem unprecedented — she finished with a career-best .244 batting average in her junior season — but she’s not intimidated by the goal of maintaining her average that’s currently 40 points higher than last year’s finish.

“This season is a little different than the rest because I am a senior now.” Bausher said. “I’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t work, and I know what I need to do to continue to be successful.”

A major ingredient to maintaining her success is patience. The ability to wait for the right pitch and not being overly aggressive at the plate has been a three-year-long progression. And it’s one she’s still working on.

Through 18 games, Bausher has still drawn just one walk. Although her teammates want to believe she can sustain her production without taking more free bases, she knows that’s not the case.

“It’s especially important for me to not swing at too many balls.” Bausher said. “I have to let the pitcher throw to me and avoid letting her get two quick strikes.”

In Hutchins’s opinion, it makes more sense to bat Amanda Chidester, Nikki Nemitz, and Stephanie Kirkpatrick — who all have lower batting averages than Bausher — sixth, seventh and eighth. And that’s the look she’s gone with through the first quarter of the season.

Her hope is that the La Russa philosophy will work in Ann Arbor.

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