What do you get when you combine Michigan junior Tiffany Haas’s great hitting, speed and softball smarts?
The quintessential leadoff hitter.
“She is the best second baseman in the country, and I really believe that,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She doesn’t carry that around as a burden. She just plays. She doesn’t always play perfect; she makes mistakes, but she doesn’t carry things around as a burden. I think it is a really great quality for a great player.”
The No. 1 Michigan softball team entrusts the role of jumpstarting the offense to Haas. And there’s not a better person for the job.
Haas gives the Wolverines just about everything they could ask for. Her .400 batting average places her sixth in the Big Ten this season. She’s belted six home runs, already eclipsing her previous career-high of five.
Haas’s leadoff skills have helped power the Wolverines to a Big Ten-leading 258 runs this year — 66 more than their closest competitor, Iowa. Haas leads the league in runs with 42, and the next four members of the Michigan batting order follow right behind her, rounding off a monopoly of the top-five of the Big Ten leaderboard.
“It’s huge (when I get a hit to start the game),” Haas said. “It tells our team that they can hit the ball, too. We’re all just as great, and it should pump them up. At least, that’s the idea.”
But hitting’s not all that Haas excels at — she’s a threat on the basepath too. She stole 18 bases on 19 attempts last year, and started this season 8-for-10. Haas admitted that, although she would like to steal all the time, she takes a somewhat cautious approach to running.
“Sometimes I can get too rambunctious or too excited, but you can’t do that early on because then it gives the other team momentum,” Haas said. “I’m not as risky at the beginning of the game.”
Even when she doesn’t get on base, Haas believes she has an important duty to her team as the first hitter of the game. Drawing on her previous experience as a pitcher, she reports back to her teammates as to what they should expect when they step up to bat.
“I know that I don’t get a whole lot of pitches to see, but I will tell my teammates what I see and if there’s movement or if she’s quick or slow to the plate,” Haas said. “How she holds the ball can give away some pitches. Also, where she steps might be an indication of where she might pitch. We have our coaches to help, but sometimes you can see a funky windup when you are up to bat.”
None of this is unexpected play from Haas, who was named both NCAA Region 6 MVP and a third-team All-American last year.
Haas hit .533 with six RBI during the regionals. She also smashed two game-winning home runs to help lead the Wolverines to the College World Series.
“It was at the end of the year so there was nothing that I could do if I looked back,” Haas said. “I was just going to go out and do my best. I stayed hot during the entire tournament just because I knew that I had to trust myself and what I’ve been practicing in games.”
Despite her tremendous play during last year’s tournament, Haas feels she’s even better this year, and Hutchins agrees.
Haas — who led the team in hitting last year — says that increased focus as well as adjustments to her batting has helped her improve this season. The changes have helped Haas increase her average by .046 this season. She is also one of 25 finalist for the National Player of the Year award.
“This year, she’s gone to another level,” Hutchins said. “She’s better than ever. I think that her defense has improved. She makes plays up the middle as good as anyone I’ve seen, and, with her hitting, you can’t ask for much more.”
Notes: Michigan sophomore Lorilyn Wilson shared this week’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Week award with Iowa’s Lisa Birocci. Wilson finished the week with a 4-1 record and struck out 23 batters while giving up just one run in 19.1 innings of work. This is the third time this year she has won the award.