At Alumni Field, there’s a tradition of domination in the Big Ten. The Michigan softball team has 16 Big Ten Titles, 10 Women’s College World Series appearances and 36 straight winning seasons. The sixth-ranked Wolverines will have two ranked opponents in No. 14 Nebraska and No. 21 Minnesota in the conference. But starting this Friday, the Michigan softball team will begin its campaign toward becoming seventh straight Big Ten champions. Here’s a look at what the Wolverines are up against.
Big Ten pitchers will be challenged by Minnesota sluggers like junior utility player Kaitlyn Richardson and junior shortstop Tyler Walker. Richardson was named to the All-Big Ten first team in 2013 and currently leads the Gophers with a .446 batting average. Walker, who, after joining Richardson on the All-Big Ten first team last year, boasts a .377 batting average this year.
Player to watch: Senior right-handed pitcher Sara Moulton
Moulton has an earned-run average of 1.25 and already holds the school record for career shutouts (35) and complete wins (85).
Of Northwestern’s five losses this season, four were against ranked teams. The Wildcats have only recorded one win against ranked teams, that being against then-No. 3 Washington back in February.
Player to watch: Fifth-year senior infielder Emily Allard
Allard was named Big Ten Player of the Week on March 10 after batting a .667 in five games at the USF Under Armour Showcase. She entered the weekend batting .316 and left with an overall average of .400.
The Cornhuskers, along with the Wolverines, went to the Women’s College World Series last year. This year, Nebraska should once again pose the biggest threat to Michigan and a Big Ten Title. The Cornhuskers finished second in the conference last year and accounted for the Wolverines’ only Big Ten losses, but Michigan won’t be facing 14th-ranked Nebraska in the regular season this year.
The Cornhuskers played a tough early season schedule to prepare for the Big Ten, recording a 4-6 record against ranked opponents.
Player to watch: Senior catcher Taylor Edwards
Edwards was a first-team All-Big Ten Selection in 2013 and has posted a .463 batting average thus far in 2014. The Big Ten should also watch out for her twin, senior right-hander pitcher Tatum Edwards. The senior has an overall ERA of 1.42.
The Fighting Illini have only played two ranked teams all season, and lost to both of them. Illinois was clobbered by No. 3 Tennessee 10-0, and was later beat twice by No. 13 South Alabama.
Player to watch: Freshman right-hander pitcher Brandi Needham
Needham has accounted for nine of the Fighting Illini’s wins and has an ERA of 1.63. Needham has proven to be Illinois’ only accountable pitcher so far this season, and the other two that have seen game action have averages of 3.04 and 4.32.
The Badgers have just three hitters with averages over .300, but hurting Wisconsin even more is its lack of reliable pitchers. Having played only two pitchers all season, the Badgers’ bullpen has an ERA above 3.50.
Player to watch: Senior right-handed pitcher Cassandra Darrah
Darrah was named to the All-Big first team in 2013 after posting an ERA of 1.82 that season. So far in 2014, Darrah has been slightly uncharacteristic with an average of 2.59, but if she recovers anytime soon, beware.
Ohio State (12-14)
The Buckeyes lack the depth in both hitting and pitching to stay afloat in the Big Ten. Ohio State hasn’t found a starting pitcher yet, and it has just two hitters batting above .300. After facing zero ranked opponents all season, the Buckeyes are going to have a tough time in conference play.
Player to watch: Junior outfielder Caitlin Conrad
Conrad is leading the team in hitting, but she also accounts for five of the Buckeyes’ 13 home runs.