The Michigan softball team was dominant once again in its 2015 campaign, falling only one win short of a National Championship. With legendary coach Carol Hutchins at the helm, the Wolverines finished with a 60-8 record and captured Big Ten regular season and Tournament titles.
A week after Michigan’s season came to a close at the hands of two-time national champion Florida, the Daily grades the Wolverines’ performances.
Michigan boasted a potent offense this year, leading the NCAA with 108 home runs and ranking third in runs scored per game. The number was good enough to break the program’s previous single-season home run record of 103.
The batting order was solid one through nine, with five players who posted double-digit home runs and only two players who hit below .300. Those two were freshman first baseman Tera Blanco and sophomore third baseman Lindsay Montemarano, but despite their batting averages, it seemed the duo’s hits came at the most opportune times in tight games.
Junior second baseman Sierra Romero and sophomore left fielder Kelly Christner headlined the offense with respective .449 and .393 batting averages. They combined for 150 runs batted in and 43 home runs, solidifying the duo as the best in the country. Arguably the most impressive statistic: Romero struck out just eight times in 68 games.
In the championship series, freshman designated player Aidan Falk — a .344 hitter throughout the season — was on the bench . That alone encapsulates how successful this offensive lineup was.
And the success can get even better. Of the team’s consistent contributors at the plate, only senior catcher Lauren Sweet will not return.
The Wolverines were solid on the defensive end all year, accumulating a .974 fielding percentage. Yet the number earned them just 20th in the country, while Florida sat atop the category.
That made all the difference in the championship series with such a slim margin for error. In the first game between the two sides, an error by sophomore shortstop Abby Ramirez turned a solo home run into a two-run shot, and that entirely altered the outcome of the contest, as Michigan lost, 3.2.
But to say that one play encapsulates Ramirez’s individual and the team’s overall defensive performance this year wouldn’t be accurate.
Ramirez, combined with Romero, made up a consistent middle infield that committed just 19 errors in 68 games. Both Sweet and junior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence had a perfect fielding percentage.
Though Montemarano’s .944 fielding percentage isn’t elite, the number couldn’t do her defensive performance at third base justice. Life at the hot corner isn’t easy, but the sophomore made it look so with highlight plays seemingly every weekend.
It’s hard to criticize a staff that came four runs shy of a National Championship.
Michigan’s pitching corps finished fifth in the nation in earned-run average, and was second among power conference teams. Realistically, the combination of sophomore right-hander Megan Betsa and senior left-hander Haylie Wagner was close to perfect.
The only fault of the staff was that the two failed to pitch their best at the same time. Wagner struggled to reach her previous All-American status early in the season, at which point Betsa emerged as the Wolverines’ regular season ace. But in the World Series, it was Betsa who struggled, and Michigan relied on exceptional performances from Wagner instead.
At the same time, the fact that the pair failed to click simultaneously is a testament to the balance that this pitching staff exhibited.
After overcoming the adversity of losing senior right-hander Sara Driesenga, Betsa and Wagner posted a 1.72 and 1.75 ERA, respectively.
Though Wagner will be gone next year, Blanco will stay in Ann Arbor this summer to work on her pitching game, and Driesenga may use her redshirt to return for a final season in the maize and blue.
Honestly, the Wolverines didn’t have much need to turn to their bench. The only time Michigan consistently worked with its bench was for pinch running and during Sweet’s brief leg injury in March.
The pinch running trio — juniors Olivia Richvalsky and Mary Sbonek and freshman Nikki Wald — combined for 48 runs scored.
Falk started all eight games at catcher during Sweet’s absence. She posted a .556 batting average with six RBI and two home runs in a three-game series against Ohio State, earning her a starting spot at designated player after Sweet’s return.
The eight-game stretch without the veteran catcher could have proved difficult to cope with, but Falk ensured that the Wolverines didn’t skip a beat.
Well, this one is easy. In her 31st season as head coach, Hutchins maintained her typical standard of excellence. She and her coaching staff led Michigan through a season in which it had just eight losses and strung together a 28-game winning streak.
The coaching staff obviously played a role in adapting to the loss of Driesenga and Sweet’s brief injury, while elevating the Wolverines from a No. 8 preseason ranking to No. 2 to conclude the season.
Really, the only fault was that the Wolverines couldn’t capture a national championship.
Most Valuable Player: Romero
Freshman of the Year: Falk
Most Improved: Christner