In its last two seasons, the Michigan softball team has
struggled in its Big Ten home opener. A year ago, the Wolverines
(4-0 Big Ten, 29-6 overall) lost 4-0 to Illinois in their first
conference game at Alumni Field. The year before that, they dropped
a close one to Penn State, 1-0. Michigan has historically been
mediocre (10-11) in its conference home opener.

Michigan Softball
Michigan sophomore Grace Leutele slides into second base. Leutele and the Wolverines open their Big Ten season against Ohio State today and tomorrow before squaring off against Penn State on Sunday. (TONY DING/Daily)

With home games against Ohio State and Penn State this weekend,
the Wolverines hope to buck their recent trend. Michigan coach
Carol Hutchins said that it’s important for the players to
come to the field “ready to be in a mindset to play and to
compete hard.”

Michigan’s home opener came two weeks ago against
nonconference opponent Valparaiso.

“The purpose of scheduling that (game against Valparaiso)
was to get used to being at home and having that distraction of
being at home,” Hutchins said. “Being at home is more
of a distraction than being on the road.”

No. 9 Michigan had no problem handling Valparaiso at Alumni
Field, winning both games of the doubleheader by a combined score
of 17-0. But it won’t have things as easy this weekend
against Ohio State. The Buckeyes (2-2, 23-12) have won six of their
last seven games and they beat Michigan once last year, 4-0. In
recent years, the teams have been quite competitive.

“We certainly have had some good rivalries, especially
with Ohio State,” Hutchins said. “Two years ago, we had
to play them six times to make our way to the World Series. I think
that really ignited it as a rivalry between us.”

This year, senior pitcher Kristi DeVries leads Ohio State on the
mound. DeVries is currently second all-time for Ohio State in both
strikeouts and wins. This season, she boasts an ERA of 1.26 and 95
strikeouts.

“DeVries is having a good year, and especially a good last
couple of weeks,” Hutchins said. “So we expect
we’ll have our hands full, and we expect it to be difficult
to get the offense going. But our goal is just to play defense
until we can get it going.”

Defense has been the Wolverines’ main strength this
season. They have a team ERA of 0.73 and have averaged fewer than
one error per game. But offensively, Michigan has struggled to find
consistent production throughout the lineup. Early in the season,
the top of the order was hitting well and the bottom of the order
was struggling. But recently, it has flip-flopped.

“We certainly need production — period,”
Hutchins said. “Whether it’s from the top of the order
or the bottom of the order — they have sort of taken turns a
little bit. More than anything, for us to have success, we need
consistency.”

After games against Ohio State today and tomorrow, the
Wolverines will host Penn State on Sunday. The Nittany Lions (2-2,
14-21) don’t have the best record, but they have played the
most difficult schedule in the Big Ten so far this season. Ten of
their first 12 games came against opponents ranked in the top 25,
and they are 13-10 since then. Hutchins said that her team focuses
only on how it is going to play and doesn’t care about its
opponents because every game counts the same on the record in the
long run.

“We’ll treat Penn State the same as we’ll
treat Ohio State,” Hutchins said. “And that’s
very simple: They are in our way, and for us to accomplish our
goals, we have to get them out of our way.”

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