A quick glance at the Michigan softball team’s personell immediately tells you something about coach Carol Hutchins.

She has tremendous faith in her pitchers — she must if she only carries three of them on her roster.

The second-ranked Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 26-5 overall) are one of six ranked NCAA teams with just three hurlers. Most teams have two starters, along with at least two or three arms available in the bullpen.

Critics often wonder — what happens if one of those starters has a rough outing, and there’s not enough relief?

But Hutchins has never been particularly concerned about that. It’s a question that she and her players shrug off.

“That’s fine,” senior third baseman Maggie Viefhaus said. “If one of them doesn’t do well, we have two other pitchers that will come out and beat you anyway. It doesn’t matter who’s on the mound. We’re going to beat you.”

All-Americans Nikki Nemitz and Jordan Taylor have pitched for 200 of the team’s 211 innings this season.

But who is the third pitcher of whom fans hear, but see so little? Who is the one that is bound to step in for Nemitz next season?

Her name is Stephanie Speierman, a freshman righty who spent the last four seasons shattering high school records in Maryland. She set eight different marks, including career strikeouts (1,363), single-season strikeouts (426), single-season wins (23) and single-season ERA (0.00).

Moreover, she could potentially fill Nemitz’s role as a hitting pitcher, as she batted a career .462 over her four years at Hammond High.

“Well, I’m not opposed to (putting her in the lineup),” Hutchins said. “Anytime you got a player that can pitch and hit, my philosophy is the best nine hitters are in the lineup. So, if she’s one of them, then she will be.”

So far, it’s difficult to tell whether or not Speierman’s high school dominance will convert to the NCAA level as it did for Nemitz and junior Jordan Taylor. Through her first seven appearances, in which she’s pitched 11 innings, she’s given up five earned runs and two homers.

One may chalk up those numbers to inexperience or a lack of routine starts, but her stats are comparatively weak when looking at Nemitz and Taylor’s rookie year numbers — they finished with ERAs of 1.88 and 0.76, respectively.

But after this weekend, Speierman put some of those concerns to rest.

Once Michigan garnered a 15-run lead over Wisconsin after just three innings on Saturday, Hutchins chose to clear her bench to give her starters a rest. Taylor took a seat, and Speierman took the mound.

The switch was seamless. Badger hitters continued to go down like flies, just as they had in the first three innings.

Even after Speierman gave up a bloop single that landed safely in right field to break up the combined Michigan no-hitter, she came back and struck out the next batter to end the game.

“It happens,” Speierman said. “People get hits. It wasn’t a big deal to me.”

And Speierman is still a long way from proving her worth as a premiere Wolverine starter — there’s only so much you can tell about a pitcher from 11 innings of work.

But from the looks of it, she’s on the way.

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