Losing an All-American pitcher is never easy, but as the Michigan softball team is finding out, watching younger players step up and try to fill the void is an exciting part of the off season.

The Wolverines beat Michigan State 7-6 in their first scrimmage of the year on Friday night. The match featured many young players, two of whom have the arduous task of trying to replace the giant shoes left behind by current USA softball pitcher Nikki Nemitz.

Senior right-handed pitcher Jordan Taylor will take Nemitz’s spot as the number-one pitcher, but the real question concerns the number-two spot. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Stephanie Speierman got some experience last year, but is still a relatively unknown quantity. The other pitcher on the roster is a southpaw junior transfer from Loyola Chicago, Hillary Payne, who went 6-10 for the Ramblers last season.

A big part of Friday’s scrimmage was seeing how young players would perform in a big-game scenario, and though the game was only a scrimmage, the crowd at the Wilpon Complex was intense. Seeing how players deliver on the big stage is much different from seeing how they perform in practice, which is one reason teams play these scrimmages in the first place.

“I couldn’t be happier with the crowd, the noise and the music,” Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins said after the match against the Spartans. “Hopefully this helped get the jitters out of our system a little bit.”

Both players were given the opportunity to pitch in Friday’s scrimmage, but they had varying degrees of success.

Speierman started for the Wolverines and she pitched well, going three innings and allowing no hits and no runs while recording three strikeouts. Speierman looked very sharp on the mound, looking like a veteran pitcher, not someone with only 24 innings of experience under her belt.

“I am very, very impressed with Speierman,” Hutchins said. “She came back and had to learn how to drag (pitch without lifting the back foot), and she has gotten a lot better.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Payne’s first test of her Michigan career did not go as well as she would have hoped. She lasted only 2.1 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits without recording a strikeout. It took a while for Payne to settle down, and it was clear that playing in the Wilpon Complex was unlike anything she had ever done.

“I walked out to the mound and said, ‘Hillary are you better than this?’ ” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “And she said, ‘Yes.’ She is a lot better than that. But I have to tell you, if you play at Loyola for two years and then walk onto this field… There was no question her butterflies did not settle down for a while.”

It is important not to jump to conclusions, since it was just the first exhibition of a long season. Both pitchers have all winter to improve and prove themselves to the coaching staff, so this “competition” is far from over.

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