Complacency can kill a team.
When the No. 1 Michigan softball team took the field yesterday at Alumni Field, it carried along numerous distractions.
The Wolverines (11-1 Big Ten, 46-3 overall) had finally returned home after two successful road trips over a span of two weeks. Yesterday, they faced off against Eastern Michigan, winning both games in the doubleheader 5-1 and 14-2.
But, during both games, Michigan struggled at times to focus on the task at hand.
During the first inning of the first game, sophomore Lorilyn Wilson stepped into the pitcher’s circle for the Wolverines. Eastern Michigan’s Lauren Clark laced a high fastball into rightfield to start the game for the Eagles (11-17). Then, after Wilson struck out Heather Giroux, Lindsay Schmid hammered another Wilson fastball off the right-centerfield fence to score Clark and give Eastern Michigan a 1-0 lead.
But in the bottom of the first inning, Michigan found a spark from an always-reliable source: senior Jessica Merchant. With runners on first and second, Merchant stroked a line drive double over the centerfielder’s head to drive in junior Tiffany Haas from second.
“I just try to see something and hit it,” Merchant said. “There was a lot of game left, so it wasn’t really a high-pressure situation. We went down one, and you have to score to win.”
Settling down from a rough first inning, Wilson shut down the Eagles’ offense during the remainder of the game. She allowed just two more Eagles to reach base. Wilson surrendered just one run and two hits during her seven innings of work and improved her record to 19-1.
But Michigan coach Carol Hutchins always looks for the weak spots and tries to correct them before the Wolverines reach the point in the season when it will be too late.
In Wilson’s case, Hutchins wants to see her maintain her in-game concentration.
“Wilson buckled down the best in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings,” Hutchins said. “In the first four innings, she was not on. When she clears out her ears (and regains focus), she’ll be better. We need her, and, if she doesn’t show up to pitch, we’re going to have a hard time.”
As the sun began to sink into the horizon, the Wolverines started the second game with renewed fervor. Junior pitcher Jennie Ritter struck out three Eagles in the first inning while walking just one. In the bottom of the first inning, the Michigan bats came alive, registering 10 runs, and fell two batters short of cycling through the lineup twice.
Freshman Samantha Findlay drove in the first three Michigan runs with a home run over the leftfield fence. Following an Eastern Michigan pitching change, senior Nicole Motycka homered over the rightfield fence to give Michigan a 4-0 lead.
“We came out swinging our bats well,” Merchant said.
But after extending the lead to 14-0 in the third inning, the Wolverines lost some of their focus again. Ritter gave up a run in the top of the third inning and another in the top of the fifth inning.
“I thought Ritter struggled with her focus a little bit at the end of the game,” Hutchins said. “The most important part of the game, at this point, is what’s going on between their ears.”
Even though the Wolverines have good reason to be confident in their ability to get a win whenever they sprint onto the field, Hutchins understands that the distractions from playing at home, the media and the burden of being the top team in the nation can hurt Michigan’s focus.
“I don’t think we are a team that will become complacent, but I do think that you can start taking winning for granted,” Hutchins said. “No matter what, you can never stop worrying about the ‘what ifs.’ ”