After reaching the 20-win plateau with just one loss, the Michigan softball team’s season was shaping similarly to the 2005 National Championship season.
The 2005 Wolverines strung together 32 straight wins after dropping their season-opener. This year’s squad had won 16 consecutive contests after losing five games into the season.
But at the Judi Garman Classic, the chance to go retro was lost, going a disappointing 3-2 for the tournament.
“It was a tough weekend for us but we needed that kind of competition,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We still have some work to do.”
The ninth-ranked Wolverines (23-3) began the competition on Thursday and Friday sweeping pool play against top teams like No. 12 Washington and No. 24 Florida State. Taking advantage of its opponents’ mistakes, Michigan held its own and played error-free softball to lock up the top spot in Pool B.
On Saturday, the Classic was less than memorable.
Facing its highest-ranked opponent of the season in the knockout stage, Michigan gave No. 5 Arizona all it could handle. But when it came down to opportunities, the Wolverines couldn’t deliver.
As the game held scoreless in the third, Michigan had the bases loaded with two outs and sophomore Teddi Ewing at the plate. Arizona pitcher Taryne Mowatt threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score but she maintained her composure by striking out Ewing to end the inning.
With the Wolverines unable to convert further, the Wildcats struck back in the next inning with a two-out, two-run single. Arizona held on to prevail, 2-1.
Despite the disappointment, Hutchins was satisfied with her team.
“I was most pleased with some of our performances against Arizona,” Hutchins said. “We came down to some particular moments, which is what we needed to have. We could have won that game. We made a couple mistakes that cost us and as I tell the team, ‘When you get to the highest level, that’s what it is. It comes down to taking care of business every pitch of the game.’ “
Looking to take out their frustrations against Penn State in their final game of the weekend, the Wolverines came out swinging, but not in a good way.
Although Michigan hit in six of seven innings, it wasn’t patient enough to execute the game plan to attack the inside part of the plate, leaving seven runners in scoring position. With baserunning blunders and an uncharacteristic 11 hits off senior pitcher Lorilyn Wilson, nothing was going right for the Wolverines, who lost 5-2.
“Against Penn State, I just felt we didn’t play well in very many categories at all,” Hutchins said. “We chased their pitches. We had no discipline at the plate and we squandered a lot of opportunities. Lorilyn did not have her ‘A’ game by any means.”
The 11 hits off Wilson was the most a Michigan pitcher has allowed in 45 games. In the past three years, the Wolverines are 1-4 against the Nittany Lions.
“The key is that we don’t let it be anything more than a setback and that we come off practice this week with a little bit better approach going into next weekend, because clearly we are still a softball team that’s not where we want to be, ” Hutchins said.
Despite going 3-2, there is a sense of optimism coming out the weekend.
Adding to Michigan’s consistency at the top of the order, freshmen Molly Bausher and Angela Findlay have started to come out at the bottom of the order with Findlay batting a team-leading 8-for-15 for the Classic.
Playing against Arizona and watching the remaining tournament games, the Wolverines have found out where they sit among the nation’s best.
“I believe after watching these teams out here, we’re a top-10 team,” Hutchins said. “But to actually win the game (against Arizona) and get what we want to get, we need to get a little finer on the edges. And more than anything, we need to be an attacking mode team.”