The last two years, the Michigan hockey team won the CCHA Championship and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Since its home, Yost Ice Arena, happened to be hosting the Midwest Regional, it was given an enormous advantage. The Wolverines made sure to capitalize on their good fortune by reaching the Frozen Four both seasons.
Michigan’s softball team has enjoyed a similar advantage the last two years, but with one difference: In order to host the Big Ten Tournament, they have had to earn it by winning the Big Ten regular season title.
The Wolverines have finished first in the Big Ten the last two years, before finishing second in the Big Ten Tournament two years ago and winning it last year.
The players realize the benefits of hosting the Big Ten Tournament, and are focused doing it again.
“We don’t want to lose any of our Big Ten games,” freshman third baseman Grace Leutele said. “One of our goals is to tear it up in the Big Ten.”
The Wolverines (3-1 Big Ten, 21-8 overall), winners of five straight, will get a crack at one of the few teams hotter than themselves today and tomorrow in Iowa (4-0, 25-7).
Before losing to Northern Iowa in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday, Iowa had won nine in a row and 23-of-24. The Hawkeyes are led by their middle infielders, shortstop Kristin Johnson and second baseman Christina Schmaltz, who have combined for 73 hits, 44 RBI’s and 40 runs. Michigan will face a pair of tough hurlers this weekend in Lisa Birocci and Ali Arnold. The two are a combined 24-7, and both boast ERAs around one.
Michigan has been at its best lately, and it obviously needs to be on top of its game this weekend. The Wolverines lost their Big Ten and home opener to Illinois Friday, but their bats have come alive in the five games since then. Leutele led Michigan to a doubleheader sweep over Western Michigan Tuesday with three homers, and freshman Jennie Ritter pitched a two-hit shutout in the second game.
Michigan has already suffered through not one, but two doubleheaders in the cold this past week. With the weather lousy once again, Hutchins has made sure the players don’t dwell on the elements.
“It’s important that we realize we can’t control the weather,” Hutchins said. “Can it play an effect? Our goal is not to let it.
“You really have to give our kids credit. It’s tough to play when the body can’t stay warm. I was proud of their ability to stay focused for such a long period of time. They fought hard and came out on top in some close games.”