Look into the Michigan softball team’s practice batting cages, and you might find something unusual: wooden baseball bats.
Since Spring Break, the fifth-ranked Wolverines have replaced their composite softball bats with wooden baseball bats during batting practice.
“They’re part of our repertoire,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I’ve used baseball bats off and on over the years but not regularly. There are some drills we do regularly, and they’re definitely going to be one of them.”
The Wolverines hope their distinctive batting practice techniques continue to pay off when they play Iowa Friday.
Hutchins said some of her veteran players tend to throw their whole upper body out when they swing. Practicing with baseball bats encourages hitters to swing through with their hands and extend the bat’s barrel out further.
After correcting hitting techniques with heavier wooden bats, the players can smoothly transition back to lighter composite bats during games.
“Yeah, we’re using baseball bats, but the same thing applies when you have a softball and a softball bat,” freshman first baseman Dorian Shaw said. “Throwing your hands out, just those basics, really reinforce when we use them everyday in practice. Then you just get to the game without even thinking about it.”
And since Spring Break, Michigan’s team batting average has increased.
Holding a team average of .272 on March 1, the Wolverines (4-0 Big Ten, 28-3 overall) have improved at the plate each weekend. They now lead the Big Ten with their .294 average.
“Our consistency with these drills and just sticking with them, not doing them one day in practice and then moving to something completely different, is really beneficial,” Shaw said. “The fact that the coaches really emphasize that we do a good job of it in practice really helps us to think about those things in the games.”
The Wolverines have seen consistent production from the entire lineup. In last weekend’s four-game road trip, Michigan outscored its opponents 29-2. And in a six-inning mercy-rule 8-0 win over conference foe Purdue, seven Wolverines registered hits.
The Hawkeyes (1-1, 22-11) have two strong pitchers in sophomore Amanda Zust and junior Brittany Weil. The Iowa pitchers currently rank third and fourth in the conference in earned runs average (0.93 and 1.13, respectively).
They trail only Michigan’s pitching tandem of freshman Jordan Taylor and sophomore Nikki Nemitz (0.55 and 0.73 respectively).
But if the hitting improvements are any indication, the Wolverines will put up a fight against the strong Hawkeye pitching.
“We’re swinging better,” Hutchins said. “I’m really encouraged by it.”