Of the 25 games the Michigan softball team has played this year, none have been at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor. 10 of its games have been against ranked opponents.
And yet, the third-ranked Wolverines still found themselves with only one loss heading into the Judy Garman Classic in Fullerton, California.
Thursday, Michigan lost its opener against No. 22 Arizona State, 2-0, and it dropped its afternoon matchup to undefeated No. 1 Florida, 7-4 in its two first games of the tournament.
After losing the first two games, the Wolverines wrapped up the rest of play with three run-rule wins against San Jose State, No. 9 Baylor and San Diego State by scores of 9-1, 11-1 and 10-2, respectively.
The Saturday win against San Diego State completed the fifth road trip of the year for Michigan, and it capped off a Spring Break in which the Wolverines played 11 games in nine days.
“We are as fatigued as I’ve ever seen us,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We really had to gut through this last half of the trip. I thought we had to show a little grit there to get through it.”
If exhaustion was a factor in the Wolverines’ losses to Arizona State and Florida, it wasn’t necessarily evident. Sophomore right-hander Megan Betsa allowed just seven hits and one earned run, and she pitched seven scoreless innings of work before giving up a game-ending two-run home run in the eighth inning against Arizona State. Despite the effort from Betsa, Michigan was unable to score any runs.
“I don’t want to say that we struggled (at the plate),” said junior outfielder Sierra Lawrence after the loss to Arizona State. “We just didn’t have timely hits, and we didn’t get them when we should have.”
The Wolverines’ consistently productive offense is batting .346 as a unit, but it only put up five hits against a talented Sun Devil pitching staff that has come to know the Michigan lineup well in recent weeks. But the contest a few hours later against top-ranked Florida unfolded differently.
After Lawrence reached first from her leadoff spot in the first frame against the Gators, junior infielder Sierra Romero built Michigan an early lead with a two-run blast to center field.
A two-RBI double to right field off the bat of senior left-hander Haylie Wagner, who also pitched the majority of the game against Florida, padded Michigan’s 4-0 lead in the top of the third. However, Florida responded in the bottom of the same inning with three runs of its own after the Wolverines hit three batters.
Michigan maintained the one-run lead until the fifth, when a Gator double plated a walked batter to even up the score. Betsa replaced Wagner in the sixth, but Florida was able to score three more times, enough to do in the Wolverines.
All in all, three runs off of two hits and a walk left Betsa with both losses on the day. Wagner allowed six hits and a walk in her efforts against the Gators.
“Really, we gave (the game up),” Hutchins said. “We gave way too many free bases. It’s an area of the game that’s a sore spot for us and an area that needs to improve.”
Losing the four-run lead calls attention to the Wolverines’ pitching staff, which Hutchins believes is capable of further improvement.
“The pitchers just need to do a better job of locking in every pitch and not letting the pressure of the moment get to them,” Hutchins said.
Currently, the Wolverines boast a 1.69 team earned-run average, good for second in the Big Ten.
“It was especially difficult against Arizona State, because this is the third time we’ve played them in a week,” Betsa said. “Same thing for Florida, this was the second time we’ve faced them. They’re definitely better teams, which makes the games more intense.”
However, Betsa doesn’t think an opponent’s familiarity with the Michigan squad will continue to present a challenge, particularly with Big Ten play beginning later this month.
“It just means that we have to work harder,” Betsa said. “We work on being mentally tough and one pitch better than our opponents, whether as a pitcher or a batter or anyone else.”