EAST LANSING – As the weather heats up, so does sophomore Samantha Findlay’s bat.
Last year, Findlay stepped up her already stellar hitting late in the season, winning the Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player award.
But this season, Findlay appeared to be pressing at the plate. All of her offensive numbers are down from a year ago, and coming into yesterday’s game, she hadn’t hit a home run in more than a month.
But over the weekend, she relaxed and led the Michigan softball team (14-4 Big Ten, 37-13 overall) to a sweep over rival Michigan State (9-11, 34-24).
“Sam plays better when she has fun, and she definitely had fun this weekend,” senior Jennie Ritter said. ‘We’re going to do our best to keep her happy (and) keep her having fun.”
Yesterday, with a handful of Michigan fans holding up their Sam’s Club cards when Findlay came to bat with the bases loaded in second inning, she slammed a 2-2 pitch over the right field fence to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.
“I’m just having fun,” Findlay said. “It’s coming to the end of the season and you just want to get ready. I have been working on hitting a lot and just seeing (the ball) and having fun. When I have fun, I do well. … I love it when there’s pressure, when the bases are loaded, when I have two strikes on me, when there’s two out. I like the challenge. I like to be in that position.”
She finished the weekend with hits in five of her six at-bats and was responsible for five RBI.
By the time sophomore Alessandra Giampaolo’s fifth-inning RBI single ended the game 9-1 because of the run-rule, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins had already replaced Ritter – who got the win – with freshman Stacy Delaney.
Despite being eliminated from the race for a regular-season Big Ten Championship by Northwestern’s win over Illinois Saturday night, Hutchins said her game plan for yesterday’s game did not change and that she wanted to get Delaney some work, as long, as it didn’t interfere with her main objective – winning.
While Findlay was making her Sam’s Club fans happy, Ritter took the Wal-Mart approach in the circle over the weekend – taking out her opponents. The Dexter native started and won both games. In game one, she pitched a complete game and allowed just one run on two hits and struck out 12.
“I thought Jennie Ritter was classic Jennie Ritter today,” Michigan State coach Jacquie Joseph said. “She had complete command of her pitches. … I just thought she really demonstrated today why she’s the champion that she is.”
In the opener, junior Tiffany Worthy and senior Stephanie Bercaw hit back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning to break open a 1-1 deadlock and secure another Ritter win. Senior Grace Leutele also went 4-for-4 in the win.
Ritter’s starts this weekend were her sixth and seventh straight in as many Michigan games. Although Hutchins alternated between Ritter and junior Lorilyn Wilson earlier in the season, she implied that she would continue to ride Ritter’s arm during the post-season, which will begin next week when the second-seeded Wolverines once again face off against the Spartans. Michigan is riding a five-game winning streak against Michigan State. The two teams will meet next Thursday in Evanston.