The Michigan softball team entered yesterday’s doubleheader one home run shy of breaking the previous school record of 50 home runs in a single season. Four hours and six home runs later, the Wolverines left with a new impressive season record — 22 games before the end of the regular season.
After a power surge, led by multi-home run days from both senior Nicole Motycka and freshman Samantha Findlay, Michigan shattered the previous record by ending the day with 55.
“Home runs have become a big part of the college game,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “The home run is a lot like the 3-point shot in basketball — you need to have some in your playbook.
“But there is only one school record that this team wants this year.”
Although the Wolverines’ elusive first national championship is their top priority, the key to that goal could be the home run. Their 32-game win streak — which ended Friday afternoon against Iowa — included home runs in all but two of their games.
Although Findlay and senior Jessica Merchant lead the team with 11 home runs apiece, the impressive 55-home run mark is a team effort. Five players have six or more home runs and 11 total players have contributed to the overall number.
Whether it’s contributions from junior Tiffany Haas, whose leadoff home run in the first inning of game one tied the record, or junior Grace Leutele — whose power toward the bottom of the order has helped balance out the lineup — Michigan’s power surge isn’t something that can be pitched around. The power comes from all parts of the lineup.
“We’re a good hitting team one through nine.” Findlay said.
The obvious changes in power numbers have not come out of the blue. Shattering a record this early in the season means that certain things have been tweaked. But the rise in the amount of home runs is not due to the Wolverines swinging for the fences.
“We practice hitting and seeing the ball every day,” Findlay said. “I think home runs just happen — I don’t think that you can swing for them.
“I think that, if we hit hard line shots, then good things happen and the ball will go out.”
The effects of a home run stretch farther than its benefits on the scoreboard. Aside from the obvious change on the scoreboard and the ability to get the crowd involved in the game, the long ball has other positives stemming from it.
“It kind of helps us out more emotionally,” Motycka said. “It gets people fired up for the game, especially when we are down.”
With the combination of their intimidating batting lineup and solid pitching staff — junior Jennie Ritter and sophomore Lorilyn Wilson rank in the top-three in almost all major Big Ten pitching categories — the Wolverines could have the 1-2 punch needed to finally propel them to their ultimate goal.