When pitcher Nicole Motycka walked the first batter she faced on four pitches in Michigan’s second game against Wisconsin yesterday, it looked as if her struggles from the day before would continue. Against Minnesota on Saturday, Motycka gave up four runs on three hits, got frustrated and left the game in the third inning.
Motycka looked tight on the mound, straight-faced and emotionless. Afterward, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins expressed concern about the pitcher’s mindset.
“I don’t believe she is believing, whether it’s in herself or in the pitch she’s throwing,” Hutchins said. “So she’s having some confidence problems in herself and maybe the system, I don’t know.”
But yesterday, Motycka shook off the leadoff walk and struck out the next batter, and then she went on to fan six more Badgers in the game en route to a 4-0 shutout.
Motycka seemed like a different pitcher, loose and full of laughter on the mound as she held the Badgers off until the Michigan offense came alive in the fifth inning. Motycka’s problem with control on Saturday seemed to disappear yesterday along with her grim expression, but she said the difference wasn’t anything technical.
“This morning I talked to coach Hutch about my approach on the mound, and she basically told me that I need to lighten up,” Motycka said. “So I went out there and felt more relaxed then I did yesterday.”
Assistant coach Jennifer Brundage, who works with the pitchers, said attitude can have a big effect on a pitcher’s game.
“When you’re smiling and laughing everything’s a lot more relaxed, everything’s a lot more fluid,” Brundage said. “That’s something we would like to see more of from her, but it’s tough. She’s got a lot thrown on her all at once, and she’s doing the best she can to cope with it.”
Motycka admitted that she is often too hard on herself on the mound, and after Saturday’s outing and Michigan’s 2-0 loss to Wisconsin in the first game yesterday, she could have felt even more pressure. But instead, she took an optimistic approach.
“You kind of hit a point where you’re like, ‘well, it can’t get any worse,'” Motycka said. “You only have one place to go and that’s up.”
Motycka pitched well early in the season, but has had trouble recently against tough Big Ten opponents, especially when Michigan has faced early deficits. She tends to throw well when she gets ahead in the count, but falters when pitching from behind.
Hutchins believes Motycka’s problem is not physical.
“She is her own worst enemy and she gets frustrated, and we talked about it before the game,” Hutchins said yesterday. “I just encouraged her to really give to her teammates and be more focused on them, don’t get too caught up in yourself.”
Brundage said Motycka’s mental struggles are part of being a freshman.
“The mental game in softball and baseball is the hardest thing to master, and it’s the main difference between a good softball player and a great softball player,” Brundage said. “Part of it is just going to be learning through experiences, good and bad, for her.”
Brundage also pointed out that most softball players don’t peak until after their college careers.
“The average age of the (U.S.) Olympic team was like 30 because it takes that long to develop the maturity and to have the different experiences to learn what mental approach works the best for each individual.”
Motycka’s rebound yesterday was one more experience that should help her reach that maturity.
“I just think that it is big,” Hutchins said. “She got her confidence going, and she needs to build on this.”